Iran loses clout in Arab world
In the wake of its disputed election, Iran faces diminished support from some friends and hardening opposition among foes.
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But within days, the charismatic Lebanese cleric, one of the most popular politicians in the Middle East, acknowledged that Iran was in the midst of "crisis" and appeared not to back either side. It offered a window into the level of uncertainty and ambiguity felt across much of the region in the wake of the officially proclaimed landslide victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the unrest that followed.Skip to next paragraph
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Inside the country, the popular legitimacy so carefully cultivated by the Islamic regime for 30 years began to dissipate like vapor from dry ice. Police, militiamen, and pro-regime vigilantes took to the streets to beat the Iranian "enemies" into submission. Dozens died amid claims of torture and rape, 4,000 were arrested, and 140 were subjected to Stalinesque mass trials and videotaped confessions that supposedly revealed – according to the indictments – a vast foreign conspiracy to topple the regime with a "velvet revolution."
For a regime that had always trumpeted its quasi-democratic credentials, Iran's postelection tactics caught many outside the country by surprise.
"Iran's supporters in the region were wagering before and during the elections that the Islamic state would teach the world a lesson in democracy and present a model of Islamist rule," wrote the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper. "They have lost their wager, and certainly Islamists in Arab countries who aspire to participate in the political game and come to power have lost the most."
Another Al-Hayat story was equally blunt: "The truth of the matter is that revolutionary movements that establish a new legitimacy from illegitimacy carry early on fertile seeds for its demise."
Egypt's state-run Al-Ahram newspaper decried the "democratic outrage" and said the Iranian regime should "stop the wave of violence and blood and listen to the viewpoints of the Iranian opposition that rejects the [election] results."
Many Arabs, to be sure, never bought into the Iranian mystique, and their indifference or even hostility toward the regime in Tehran has only solidified since Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed landslide victory.
"I have always been against him," says Omar Beydoun, dicing a joint of lamb for grilling in his shop in Beirut's Sunni neighborhood of Qasqas. "Ahmadinejad is causing trouble for the whole region, here in Lebanon with Hezbollah, meddling with the Palestinians, and trying to spread Shiism among Arabs. What do I care about internal fighting in Iran? If it's not Ahmadinejad, it will be someone just as bad."
Mr. Beydoun is hardly alone in a region where sporadic support for Iran among the masses was rarely matched by Arab governments, which have long been wary of Iranian motives and of spreading Shiite influence. True, for several years Iran's strategic star was definitely rising, even as America's appeared to be falling. This was especially true after Hezbollah declared victory over US-supported Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, and the insurgency in Iraq threatened the American occupation, inflicting a rising toll in US lives in 2006 and 2007.