TEHRAN, Iran — Thanks to Iran, Egypt is free.
That’s the claim that both the Iranian leadership and the opposition are making today, the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenie have said that the protest movement that brought about the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who ruled Egypt, often violently, for more than three decades — reflected the same spirit that first sparked the Iranian revolution in 1979.
“The echoes of the Islamic Revolution are being heard,” Khamenie said. “It is an earthquake and defeat for the U.S. policy. After years of struggle, the Iranian people see their voice is being heard loudly in other places in the Islamic world."
Meanwhile, Iran’s opposition movement connected the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to its own attempts to rise up against the regime of Ahmadinejad in 2009, when tens of thousands took to the streets to demand fresh elections.
“Undoubtedly, the starting point of what we are witnessing in the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez should be seen in the (Iranian) protests,” said Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated presidential candidate and leader of the opposition.
The post-election protests in 2009 were crushed by a violent crackdown by Iran’s security forces, which arrested many of the opposition leaders.
On Friday, Egyptian flags were placed beside Iranian ones throughout Tehran’s Azadi Square, where Ahmadinejad gave his usual speech to mark the occasion, and were at various points hoisted in the air by zealous schoolchildren, who seemed to make up a bulk of the crowd.
Unlike his political rivals, Ahmadinejad did not go as far as to take credit for the mass protests in Egypt, but he did spend a good deal of time professing his support for those seeking to topple the Mubarak regime, advising them, “It’s your right to be free. It’s your right to exercise your will and sovereignty ... and choose the type of government and the rulers.”
Ahmadinejad also used the opportunity to question America’s military presence in the Middle East.
“The bases of bullying powers around the world will be eradicated, and occupations around the world and the region will soon come to an end," he said.
In his 57-minute speech, Ahmadinejad also hailed Iran’s advances in science and technology, promising, among other things, that Iran would send a live animal into space within a year, and Iranian astronauts into orbit within 10 years.
He reiterated the success of his administration’s subsidy plan, unveiled in December, which seeks to rid Iran of its bloated subsidy system that has cost the Iranian economy tens of billions of dollars per year since the early 1980s.
Despite Ahmadinejad’s predictably fiery words, the atmosphere of today’s event was far different than last year’s, when a massive security presence on the streets of Tehran all but ensured that opposition forces could not co-opt the day as they had with previous holidays on the Iranian calendar.
Regime sympathizers had also been bused in from outside of Tehran, creating an impressive display of support for the state — a move an Egyptian might have expected from their former president.
Absent from Friday’s celebration were all diplomats of the European Union posted in Iran, who boycotted the proceedings to protest the execution of Dutch national Zahra Bahrami, an Iranian-born woman who was arrested during protests last year and later sentenced, dubiously, to death for possession of cocaine.
Also not in attendance were the leaders of Iran’s opposition movement, most notably Mehdi Karroubi, who is reportedly under house arrest until after Feb. 14, the date for which he and Mir Hossein Mousavi had requested a permit for a march “to declare solidarity” with popular movements in the region.
Although the request was unsurprisingly denied, some believe the Iranian opposition might still try to seize the date as an opportunity to renew their protest movement, which has been publicly dormant, in part due to a crackdown by Iran’s security forces, for more than a year.