- By Mehrun EtebariMehrun Etebari is a senior research assistant at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
As Tunisian President-for-Life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into ignominious exile two weeks ago, democrats around the world found hope in the notion that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution would spread to Iran. The images of demonstrations from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis reminded Americans of the massive 2009 protests that gave rise to Iran’s opposition Green Movement, and as pro-democracy movements inspired by Tunisia emerged in Egypt and Yemen, many observers saw a chance for Iran to be next. But looking closer, it’s clear that Iranians — from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on down to the Green Movement opposition — view the Tunisia situation as vastly different from their own, and not one that’s likely to spill over into a renewed push for democratic reform in their own country.
Despite the examples of Ben Ali and Egypt’s beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak, Iran’s leaders are far from running scared. In fact, Tehran is taking a distinctly more triumphalist understanding of the roots and effects of the Tunisian protests than American commentators would expect from another authoritarian Middle Eastern government — particularly from one facing its own challenges from opposition forces.