Sunday, March 27, 2011

Iranians Draw Lessons from Middle Eastern Uprisings

Just when the Green Movement seemed to have been defeated by the brutal repression of the Iranian regime, the mass uprisings in the Arab World gave it new life. This resurgence of the Green Movement is evident not only in recent street protests in Tehran and other major Iranian cities on February 14, February 20, March 1 and March 8, but also in a variety of articles by activists and thinkers who are reflecting on the lessons of the Middle Eastern uprisings (References are provided at the end of this article).

In my reading of many of these articles, I have come across three main issues: 1. The need to raise economic demands alongside political demands; 2. The need to go beyond calling for reform and put revolution on the agenda; 3. Warnings about the internal dangers after a movement successfully overthrows a dictator.

I. Defining Social Justice as Economic and Political Justice

Mehrdad Darvishpour, Kaveh Ehsani, Arash Zarforush, Farhad Khosrow Khavar, Saeed Peyvandi, Mohsen Motaghi and M. Cheshmeh have all emphasized the ways in which the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt involved an alliance of unemployed educated youth with dissatisfied workers and the urban poor. Darvishpour writes:

"In the Green Movement, the question of economic difficulties and the situation of the poor received less attention. . . which meant that the poor and the working class did not have a proper presence in this movement. This in turn weakened the movement. Many of the educated youth who started the Green Movement represented a sector of the population which lacked job opportunities or a clear future. Economic difficulties had an important role in their revolt. In Egypt and Tunisia however, the issue of poverty and economic demands were so obvious as to lead many to call their movement a ‘Bread and Butter Revolution.’"

Arash Zehforush writes: “The discussion of democracy and freedom can only have an impact on social classes and strata when it is directly related to their situation and the production and distribution of wealth in society. Otherwise the discussion of democracy and freedom will turn into an abstract and ineffective discourse and will lead to disillusionment among the masses.”

Although the above commentators demand that social justice be made the motto of the Green Movement, they view themselves as different from each other in terms of economic alternatives. Some argue for one or another form of free-market capitalism and attribute poverty and unemployment solely to the existence of politically corrupt and closed systems. Some who do challenge free-market capitalism, offer state-controlled capitalism as an alternative. Some oppose both free-market and state-controlled capitalism.

II. Putting Revolution on the Agenda of the Green Movement

M. Cheshmeh, Arash Zehforush, Amin Sorkhabi and Parisa Sa’ed have singled out the ways in which the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt put the question of revolution on the agenda. Amin Sorkhabi writes: “In light of the developments and events that have begun with Tunisia as the starting point, it seems that the era of the revolutions of color has come to an end. Theoreticians need to think about theorizing a new model for revolutions or socio-political changes.”

M. Cheshmeh adds:

"The defeat of the Second of Khordad Movement [Reference to the reformist movement which began with Mohammad Khatami’s election in 1997] and the experience of the June 2009 presidential election which led to the rise of the Green Movement in Iran, have weakened the tendencies which advocate reform within the context of the existing regime and the constitution. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt can put the last nail in the coffin of this paralyzing tendency within Iran’s political movement. . . The occurrence of a revolution however, does not guarantee its ultimate success. As we saw, the domination of religious reaction and the immaturity of the politicos and intellectuals during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, threw Iran out of the frying pan and into the fire. However, in comparison with other processes, revolution is the only strategy that can shake the foundations of society to the point of either overthrowing dictatorial and ideological regimes or weakening them to clear the path for a transition to democracy. At the same time, revolution should not be considered a one-time blow and an easily reachable and ephemeral goal. Instead, it has to be viewed as a process with a variety of stages. The victory or defeat of any revolutionary process depends not only on the objective situation but also on whether the revolution has a progressive, democratic and humanist outlook and leadership. . . "

This sober view concerning the serious mistakes made in 1979 and the need to view revolution as a thoughtful and constructive process, reveals the maturity of the new generation of Iranian youth. It is this soberness that has also compelled more experienced Iranian thinkers and activists to warn about the dangers of using the term revolution lightly.

III. Need to Distinguish between Uprising and Revolution

Mashallah Razmi writes: “Hosni Mubarak resigned. However much remains unclear about the future. The army is popular among the masses. However, will the army remain a guarantor of the reforms or will it take over power, or will it take on a role such as that of the army in Turkey?” Manuchehr Salehi also warns that “In Egypt, the half-way revolution has once again put the army fully in charge of the country.”

Saeed Rahnema disagrees with those who have rushed to call the uprising in Egypt a revolution. In an article originally written in English and also distributed widely in Persian translation, he states:

"While with their admirable courage and perseverance the Egyptian people have achieved a sort of mass-induced coup d’etat, toppling a corrupt dictator, the US-backed army and the dominant classes have so far succeeded in aborting the revolution. The mere fact that the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the dominant classes will remain as major players in the post-Mubarak regime, suggests that the chances for establishing a democratic system - the main aspiration of those who poured into the streets - are not very promising. The appointment by the military junta of an Islamist to oversee the rushed constitutional amendment may well be an indication of what is ahead."

The above stated concerns as well as the forcefulness with which the Middle Eastern uprisings are continuing to place the problems of mass poverty, unemployment, sexism and prejudice on the scene, have reinvigorated the Green Movement. It remains to be seen how this movement will develop in Iran and how it will continue to express its solidarity with the uprisings in the Middle East. For now however, we need to heed Rahnema’s analysis of the difficulties which prevent an immediate Egyptian style uprising in Iran:

"Many have compared the revolts in Egypt to the Iranian revolt of 2009 against Ahmadinejad’s electoral coup, and hope for similar results. However, the situation in Iran at present is very different. The Egyptian regime was headed by a single dictator and that dictator was in turn dependent on a foreign power. The clerical/military oligarchy in Iran, with its intricate network of religious, repressive and economic institutions and multiple military and intelligence systems, is highly complex and also independent from any foreign power. It is a fascist-type system that still has millions on the payroll of the state and parastatal organizations, including religious foundations. It has also shown on numerous occasions that it does not hesitate to use extreme brutality against its opposition. In the long run, its fate will not be different from those of other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere, but the Iranian people unfortunately have a much more difficult fight ahead of them."

Frieda Afary
March 24, 2011


Cheshmeh, M 2011. ‘Enqelab-e Mesr va Opozision-e iran’ , Akhbar-e Rooz, 13 Februrary. Available at

Darvishpur, Mehrdaad 2011. ‘Dars-ha va Payamadha-ye Khizesh-e Tunes va Mesr Baraye Jonbesh-e Sabz va Demokrasi dar Iran’, Akhabr-e Rooz, 7 Februrary. Available at

Ehsani, Kaveh 2011. ‘Tafavotha-ye Ejtemai-ye Jonbesh-e Mesr va Jonbesh-e Sabz’, Khodnevis,31 January. Available at

Khademi, Mahmud 2011. ‘25 Bahman, Payani va Aqazi No baraye Jonbesh-e Mardom-e Iran’, Akhabar-e Rooz , 10 Mars. Available at

Khosrow-Khavar, Farhad, Saeed Peyvandi and Mohsen Motaghi 2011. ‘Iran Cheguneh be ‘Enqelab-e Yas-e’ Tunes Minegarad?’, Iran Emrooz, 5 February. Available at

Rahnema, Saeed 2011. ‘Egypt: Lessons from Iran’, Open Democracy, 17 Februrary.
Available at

Razmi, Mashallah 2011. ‘Enqelabha-ye Post Islami dar Khavar-e Miyaneh’, Akhbar-e Rooz, 14 February. Available at

Sa’ed, Parisa 2011. ‘Hazine-ye Bozorg-e Jonbesh-e Sabz’, Akhbar-e Rooz, 13 February. Available at

Salehi, Manuchehr 2011. ‘Tofirha va Hamguniha-ye Enqelab-e Iran va Nimeh Enqelab-e Sarzaminha-ye Arabi’, Akhbar-e Rooz, 8 March. Available at

Sorkhabi, Amin 2011. ‘Anatomi-ye Se Model-e Enqelabi: Iran 88, Mesr 89 va Iran 89’, Akbar-e Rooz, 20 Februrary. Available at

Zehforush, Arash 2011. ‘Zarurat-e Ruykardi Eqtesadi beh Jonbesh-e Sabz va Tahavolat-e Ejtemai-ye Khavar-e Miyaneh’, Akhbar-e Rooz, 8 March. Available at


  1. Thank you so much for this. Absolutely fascinating. Will be sure to share around.

  2. Frieda, I agree that the term revolution must be used lightly but I fear that without the use of strong rhetoric, the media that surrounds these conflicts would not be able to fuel the socio-political changes the people desire. Political change is a cumulative process and the media need to feed the power of the people. It is in this simplicity of being daring and uncompromising in our resolve that true change occurs and I for one, welcome it in the Middle East.

  3. @Frieda Afary: Thank you very much for this summary! It was very inspiring. I would especially be further interested in translation of those articles, whose authors "oppose both free-market and state-controlled capitalism". In case you have the opportunity for further translation, I would greatly appreciate it!

  4. Reading Marx in his manuscripts of 1844: he talks about revolutions where they are not planned, they take the opportunity to happen, meannig they happen when conditions are existing. You cannot plan revolutions!

    The Green revolution, also did not represent one or another sector- it was representing many including leftists, socialists, atheists and religious sectors of all classes. It was a pupular uprising.