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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Since then, even as Shiite Iran sought to support local Shiite Muslim minorities across the region, Tehran was always careful to cultivate a Pan-Islamic appeal. A RAND Corp. analysis done for the US government and released last May, just weeks before the election, noted that Iran viewed Arab public opinion as an "important vector for power projection." Perhaps presciently, it added that popular Arab support remained a "fickle strategic resource" that could "rapidly swing from praise to condemnation."Skip to next paragraph
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Even within the Iranian hierarchy, some admit the damage done by the postelection tumult. Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard force, which took control of security in Tehran days after the vote, has claimed the unrest brought the Islamic system to the "edge of a downfall" and "dealt a blow to the credibility of the regime."
Outside the country, experts see the violence as part of a deeper autocratic tilt that was already undermining the government's standing.
Tehran's "influence must be waning, because Iran is more and more viewed as quite a fundamentalist, authoritarian Islamic regime, and not [one] that wants to protect the rights of Muslims," says Massoumeh Torfeh, an Iran expert at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. "After all, the people who are suffering in the prisons in Iran are also Muslims. The people who were killed in the demonstrations were also Muslim ... so I think their reputation is somewhat tarnished."
More broadly, she says, the aim of hard-liners – Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and a group of neoconservative politicians backed up by the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij ideological militia – is to destroy all reformist trends in Iran, as well as any "softer" approach to Islamic government.
"After 30 years, [the Islamic system] is losing, it's getting tired, it's getting old. It no longer has any new ideas, any new strategy to offer. It's just fundamentalist heated speech, and nothing more than that," says Mr. Torfeh. "Khomeini was very creative in his own way, in the way he presented Islam to the world. But this is now just the right- wing end of a movement, the fundamentalist end. I think these are the final stages; it's going more and more to the right, as if it was exiting that way."
The official rhetoric emanating from the regime since the election has remained strident. Khamenei has declared Ahmadinejad's victory a "divine assessment." A host of election complaints and anecdotal evidence of widespread fraud – along with official results that Iran analysts say are virtually impossible to achieve in Iran's mix of ethnic, social, and political constituencies – have not caused the regime to back down. Khamenei, in fact, has decreed the refusal to accept the election results as the "biggest crime."
The opposition remains active and defiant. It has been marking up currency notes with slogans supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi, the moderate challenger who declared the election was stolen, as well as with pictures of a bloodied Neda Soltan, the 19-year-old student shot dead by a Basij gunman. It is also painting opposition graffiti on streets and in classrooms.
ONE TEST OF IRAN'S current standing in the region lies among the mosques and militias of southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has been watching the turbulence more closely than any of Tehran's allies.
Hezbollah was founded with Iranian help in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is the only organization outside Iran that adheres strictly to Ayatollah Khomeini's system of velayat-e faqih, leadership by an infallible supreme theologian.