Arab countries: Is Iran's unrest an opportunity or a threat?
If the mass protests in Iran succeed in bringing about change, it could produce a better neighbor – but also set a dangerous precedent for oppressive regimes.
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While efforts to export the revolution have largely fallen by the wayside, Iran has continued to cultivate links with militant groups like the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Iran has also aggressively expanded its military and worked on its nuclear program – something the Arab neighbors fear will greatly enhance Iran's prestige and influence in their neighborhood.Skip to next paragraph
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How Iran's crisis could benefit Arab governments
But from an Arab perspective, Iran's turmoil has some pluses. Toby Jones, a historian of the Middle East at Rutgers University, says domestic political problems – coupled with Iran's deep economic woes – force the government to focus on matters at home, making them less able to pursue a regional agenda. And while they're wary of Iranians' mass protests succeeding in bringing about change – setting a precedent for their own publics – the possibility that a more accommodating and friendly Iran could emerge is also on the positive side of the ledger.
"I don't think the Arab governments know what they want out of this situation," says Mr. Jones. "In some they have to be worried about another revolution being exported, but if there's real change they might have a more democratic government to deal with as opposed to this whacko regime that everyone says can't be trusted."
Essam El Erian, who heads the political affairs section of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular opposition movement, adds that Arab governments simply don't know if what's happening in Iran is to their advantage or not. He also points out that if a moderate who is more open to dialogue with the West replaces President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the regional balance of power may shift at Arabs' expense.
Though Sunni Arab, the Brotherhood has at times spoken approvingly of the Iranian state's Islamic character and of its uncompromising criticism of Israel. Its own political efforts have been constrained by an Egyptian state that, like Iran appears now, holds elections but skews the field heavily against regime opponents.
"Any closer relationship or dialogue between Iran and the West would give them more influence, [an] upper hand in the Arab world and the Gulf region, and that is a threat to the interests of Arab countries," he argues. "For 30 years Iran has tried to export its revolution and it has always failed... but now these protests are like a second wave – only they are focusing on fairness and elections."
Click here to read more about how the balance of power in the region could change.