Iran's Policy Confusion about Bahrain

Analysis, posted 07.01.2011, from Bahrain, in:
Iran's Policy Confusion about Bahrain (Photo: IranReview.org)

On June 23, eight Bahraini Shiite activists were sentenced to life in prison -- the latest in a string of government efforts to suppress ongoing populist uprisings. In a statement Friday, Manama defended the sentences, claiming that the activists had been convicted of "plotting to violently topple Bahrain's government" and "passing sensitive information to a terrorist organization in a foreign country." Yet even in the face of such sharp repression, Shiite Iran has been unable or unwilling to help its coreligionists in Bahrain. As a result, the crisis could lead to a significant decline in Iran's political influence with Shiite Arabs, while at the same time causing serious problems in Tehran's relations with Arab governments.

Tehran's View of the Arab Spring

Iran was quite content with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt -- in fact, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and others presented them as part of a regional Islamic awakening inspired by Iran's 1979 revolution. For three decades before the Egyptian revolution, Tehran held no visible diplomatic relations with Cairo. Its relationship with Tunisia was not in great shape either, in part because Tunis feared that Tehran sought to use the country as a base for networking with African Islamists.

When the tremors of change reached Syria, Iran's leaders leapt to compare the protests with the crisis that followed the 2009 Iranian presidential election. That is, they denied the genuine nature of the movement while accusing the United States and Israel of plotting against what they described as a legitimate and popular government.

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By Mehdi Khalaji

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shiite groups in the Middle East.