Navigate to News section

Iran Is Losing the Arab Spring

Plus a fascinating look inside Syria

Marc Tracy
August 31, 2011
Outside the shattered courthouse of a Damascus suburb.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Outside the shattered courthouse of a Damascus suburb.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Today in Tehran, Supreme Leader Khamanei cautioned Arab Spring protesters not to permit Israel or the West to “confiscate” their movement. This is, in a word, rich.

For if there is a single outside country clearly on the wrong side of the Arab Spring—specifically in Syria, where the Spring has taken its most violent and urgent turn—it is Iran. An important Wall Street Journal article today reports that Iran’s popularity in the Arab world has plummeted radically, largely due to its continued backing of the Assad regime, which it relies on as an ally to project power into the Levant as well as to Hezbollah and Hamas. “Increasingly, ordinary Arabs and Iranians are asking, on blogs and in conversations and interviews, what kind of resistance group would turn a blind eye to the killing of innocent fellow Muslims,” the Journal reports, referring here to Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite group. This was predictable: the regional hegemon, Saudi Arabia—which, unlike Iran, is Arab and Sunni—has seen the Syrian uprising as a chance to harness the aspirations of ordinary Arabs throughout the region to weaken Iran’s power. Strong, U.S.-backed Saudi influence as a counterweight to the Iranian-sponsored axis is also, of course, what Israel would like to see.

Meanwhile, your afternoon reading is Anthony Shadid’s tremendous New York Times Magazine article on the youthful protesters of Syria. He is one of the few Western journalists who has been in the country since the uprisings heated up, and his reporting is essential. “Abdullah represents what the government insists it is fighting,” Shadid reports of a young man.

He is a Salafist, an adherent to a puritanical Islam, though he disavows the term. To him, Salafists bear arms, and he understands that the moment he and others fire a bullet in Homs or anywhere else, the regime will have the justification it covets to crush them with even more force. But there was no question of his devotion to a state that adheres to Islam as its foundation, and he dismissed the comparatively liberal rhetoric of some Islamic activists, like the Muslim Brotherhood. “They want to satisfy the West, and they don’t want to satisfy Muslims,” he told me the next morning. “They say, ‘We’re a modern Islam.’ But there’s no such thing as modern Islam. There’s Islam, and there’s secularism.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.