Iran | Experts Fear Iran Will Exploit Tumult in Middle East
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Experts Fear Iran Will Exploit Tumult in Middle East
Iran was not immune to the anti-government protests that swept through the Middle East in February and March 2011. Demonstrations broke out in February amid the unfolding revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. President Ahmadinejad initially billed the protests as a display of support for the popular uprisings against secular governments. This stood in stark contrast, however, to the sentiment among the protesters—members of the opposition that took to the streets in 2009 to express anger about what is widely considered a rigged election in Ahmadinejad's favor. When it became clear that Ahmadinejad was the target of the protesters, police began to brutally suppress the demonstrations with tear gas and clubs. Parliament called for the execution of opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Despite the crackdown on protesters in Iran, Ahmadinejad condemned Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's violent attack on Libyan protesters that left hundreds dead. Some observers speculated that Iran would benefit by the tumult in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, neighboring countries that have expressed support for engagement with Israel.
"I think the Saudis are worried that they're encircled—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon; Yemen is unstable; Bahrain is very uncertain," Alireza Nader, of the RAND Corporation, said in an interview with the New York Times. "They worry that the region is ripe for Iranian exploitation. Iran has shown that it is very capable of taking advantage of regional instability."
Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious leader of Iran, engaged in a public power struggle in 2011 that suggested a split among Iran's conservative base—the political elite versus the traditional conservatives, led by Khamenei. It began in April when Ahmadinejad fired the chief of the intelligence ministry, only to have the move rescinded by Khamenei. Then, in September prior to attending the annual meeting of the UN, Ahmadinejad announced that two American hikers who had been imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges for more than two years would be released. Less than a day later, the judiciary said he lacked the authority to issue the order. The hikers, however, were released later in the month.