Last week, I attended the premiere of the film Iranium, a documentary about Iran’s Islamic regime and its apocalyptic intentions towards the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world, not to mention its own people.
Yet with the protests in Tahrir Square, Egypt was very much on the minds of those assembled. How could it not be? After all, the beginning of the film showed scenes from the demonstrations that gripped Tehran in early 1979. A critical mass of Iranian society, both secular and Islamic, joined forces to demand that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, better known as the Shah, leave office. The protesters, of course, got their wish and ended up with a regime far worse than they could have possibly imagined.
In 2011, there is very little to leave to the imagination. Despite the largely secular aspirations of the protesters in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the best organized opposition force (and best armed) in the country. While some might take comfort in Hosni Mubarak’s departure and take additional comfort in the Egyptian military temporarily taking the reins of power, the political situation in Egypt is far from resolved. With such fragility and uncertainty abound one cannot discount the possibility of an Iran like Islamic takeover albeit a Sunni version.
As I was watching Iranium I thought to myself, “Why does President Obama support the aspirations of the Egyptian people in 2011 but not those of the Iranian people in 2009?” Following the film, two Iranian dissidents, both members of the Confederation of Iranian Students, addressed the audience. One of them was Siavash Sartipi, who currently resides in Germany. During the Q & A, I asked Sartipi if he was perplexed by President Obama’s inconsistency. Sartipi replied that not only was he perplexed but wondered why Obama was prepared to “meddle” in Egypt but not in Iran.
Indeed, in the space of fifteen days, President Obama issue three separate statements on the protests in Egypt. Consider what Obama had to say during his second statement on Egypt, which was prompted by Mubarak’s announcement on February 1 that he would leave office in September:
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Now it’s true that President Obama never used the term “regime change.” Yet by calling for free and fair elections in Egypt, for all intents this is exactly what he was proposing. Well, there was an “election” held in Iran in 2009 that was neither free nor fair. But did President Obama demand of the Mullahs and of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that there be an orderly transition? He made no such demand of the Iranian regime. Instead, President Obama stood in the Rose Garden and told the people of Iran he didn’t want “to be seen as meddling in Iran’s elections.” Those words have made a lasting impression on the Iranian people. Indeed, Obama’s words were shown in Iranium.
Sartipi further noted what had made a lasting impression on the Iranian people was Obama’s message earlier in 2009 during the traditional Persian holiday of Nowruz in which he called upon “the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations.” Unlike President Obama, President Bush never harbored any such illusions during his Nowruz message of 2008 and expressed his desire for the Iranian people “to live in a free society.” Bush went on to call Iran’s reformers “brave people” who “have no better friend than George W. Bush.” Not only has President Obama never described himself as a friend of Iran’s reformers but his futile efforts to engage the Iranian regime have served only to legitimize it. So is it any wonder that members of Iran’s pro-democracy Green Movement would ask, “Obama! Are you with us or are you against us?”
Iranians undoubtedly have that question on their minds as they have once again taken to the streets. Despite the Iranian regime’s public support for the demonstrations in Egypt, they have made it clear they brook no dissent within their own borders. While National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made statements critical of Iran with regard to its handling of internal dissent, as of this writing President Obama has not done so.
Should protests in Iran should grow as they did in Egypt and if the Iranian regime meets these protests with an escalation of violence, then President Obama cannot sit on the sidelines and let members of his Cabinet do the talking. If President Obama does talk then he must demand Iran hold free and fair elections which result in a government guided by democratic principles which responds to the aspirations of the Iranian people. In other words, he must be prepared to demand of Ahmadinejad what he has demanded of Mubarak.
But if President Obama is unwilling to make such demands then he must tell us why the aspirations of Iranians are not as important as the aspirations of Egyptians. President Obama must tell us why he supports regime change in Egypt but not in Iran.