Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Not all Revolutions are Equal - A Comparison between Egypt and Iran

One would think, watching the BBC or CNN, that the Egyptian revolution is winding down and that the people are going back home now that talks have been commenced with the regime. That is not surprising. Since the 25th of January I've found that Western coverage of the protests has, at times, verged on the half-hearted. The picture is completely different with regards to the coverage provided by al Jazeera, that has been providing almost round-the-clock analysis and coverage of the current Egyptian revolution.

The difference between the BBC and the coverage of al Jazeera could not be more different, yet I remember that the BBC seemed to find the so-called 'Green Revolution' in Iran far more fascinating. At the time there was in-depth coverage, analysis and up-to-the-minute information on what was happening in the streets. When Neda Sultan was shot at one of the protests she was immediately turned into the face of that revolution. Yet countless Neda Sultan's were shot dead on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said over the past 15 days but we have yet to see a single one of them appear on any Western news outlet. Not one BBC journalist has visited a victim's family, or attended the funeral of any of the protestors. The horrific footage of cars plowing through crowds of protestors or of people being shot in the streets have not provoked as much concern as they would have if they were filmed on the streets of Tehran.

Even the language of Western statesmen has been far more diplomatic and reserved with Egypt than it has been with Iran. In fact the most prominent concern aired for these statesmen has been their fear of a replay on the Iranian revolution in 1979. The idea that Egypt might have a revolution like that of Iran is very unsettling to the West, hence the emphasis by Obama on 'orderly transitions'. This is because the removal of Mubarak is acceptable, but the removal of his regime is not. This regime (inspired by the former president Anwar Sadat) maintains peace with Israel and disrupts the activities of dissenting players in the Middle East such as Hezbullah, Hamas, Iran, or Syria. It is a key ally of the United States and its internal security apparatus help keep the Arab world's most populous and influential country under a tight leash. As a result, all this makes Egypt a prize that is far too valuable to lose.

In a recent blog post I pointed out that it is not wise to equate a day of rage between a country like Syria and that of Egypt. The reason I did that is because these revolutions are not taking place in a vacuum. There is a power struggle in the region between the United States and the regional powers such as Iran, with whom Syria is a key ally. For Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen to drift into the orbit of the 'opposition' states in the region, leaving Saudi Arabia and Jordan alone as US allies, would be very dangerous for the interests of the West in the area, and potentially for the security of the key US ally, Israel. What raises interesting questions in the coverage of Western news outlets between the protests in Egypt and those of Iran is how neatly the coverage coincides with the strategic interests of the United States and her allies. That raises deep concerns about the supposed impartiality and professionalism of these news outlets, but it also gives high hopes for Arabic channels such as al Jazeera that have succeeded in creating an alternative platform for the Arab world to voice its interests.

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