Iran’s supreme religious leader spoke out about Egypt’s antiregime protests Friday, declaring an “Islamic awakening” across the region that is resulting in the “irreparable defeat” of American and Israeli influence.
Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, addressing Egyptians in Arabic after delivering the Friday prayer sermon in Tehran, portrayed himself as “your brother in religion,” while praising the “explosion of sacred anger” and warning against any US role in the outcome.
Describing close US ally President Hosni Mubarak as a “traitor dictator” who is working for Israel and guilty of “great betrayal” of Egyptians, Ayatollah Khamenei said the regime-changing events in Tunisia and now Egypt were natural extensions of Iran’s own Islamic revolution in 1979.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Khamenei made no comparison between Egypt’s current people-power protest and the 2009 uprising of Iran’s own pro-democracy Green Movement. Several million Iranians took to the streets at the time, demanding political reform and freedoms, and calling Khamenei a dictator and burning his portrait, only to be forced from public view by a lethal crackdown.
On Friday, Khamenei sought to bolster Iran’s self-proclaimed role as a leader for the world’s Muslims, as part of an anti-US and anti-Western global power struggle. But Egyptian protesters themselves have had little good to say about any outside actor – including Iran – and have focused their demands on political freedoms and better living conditions.
“Do not believe in the game which is being played by the West and America; don’t believe in their role, don’t believe in their political maneuvers which are taking place in the midst of your awakening,” Khamenei warned Egyptians from the pulpit at Tehran University.
“Just a few days ago … the Americans were supporting the corrupt regime, and now after they are sick of preserving him, they are speaking about the rights of the people,” said Khamenei. “They are trying to replace one spy with another…. Look with doubt – always be suspicious – regarding the American role and American intervention," he said.
Echoes of 1979?
Iranian officials have embraced the popular protests erupting across the Arab world as a replay of the revolution that ushered in the Islamic Republic 32 years ago this week, with the return from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Ayatollah Khomeini back then called for “export” across the world of Shiite Iran’s template of religious revolution, but Iran only made concrete inroads with the fellow Shiite population in Lebanon – in the form of close support for the Hezbollah militia.
In the Friday sermon, Khamenei aimed to rekindle part of that influence by speaking about the “similarities” to 1979, and offering advice. Egypt’s largest opposition group, the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, has played a small but increasing role in the protests, though in the past its officials have privately made clear that they don’t see Iran’s revolutionary experience as either a good or useful model.
“The enemy is striving by force and by tricks, the enemy is trying to harm your will, to destroy your will,” Khamenei warned Egyptians, according to a simultaneous translation on Iran’s state-run PressTV.
“The enemy is trying to create despair, to make you believe you can’t achieve your aims. However, the promise of God says that we want to help those who were oppressed in the land…to achieve their aims, so be sure, be totally confident, in the promise of God,” said Khamenei.
“The enemy is using its security forces against you, in order to put fear and intimidation in your hearts, and to create chaos,” Iran’s supreme leader added. “Do not fear them, you are stronger than these people who have been paid for.”
Khamenei also claimed that foreign media that had “always” tried to tarnish Iran’s image, and “say that Iran wants to intervene … these are lies which have filled our ears for 30 years.”
Green Movement support
The leadership of Iran’s Green Movement – working under virtual house arrest in Tehran and dismissed by hard-line officials as powerless “leaders of sedition” – has also embraced the Egyptian cause.
In a joint statement this week, former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi spoke of Egypt and – between the lines – Iran: “No power can suppress the people’s will and demand. Sooner or later, autocratic and tyrant power are sentenced to vanish.”
Yet it has been hard-line stalwarts in Iran who have crowed their support of the Egyptian protesters, despite their hostility to similar events at home in Iran.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said this week “we are going along with the freedom seekers of the world.”
“The policies of the United State have been defeated in North Africa and the Middle East,” said Rahim Safavi, the former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “The popular revolution in Egypt is inspired by the Islamic revolution [of Iran] and doubtlessly the destiny of the dictator of Egypt will be like the dictator of Iran.”