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Iran and Its “Islamic Awakening Conference”

September 23, 2011

On the world stage of the Arab Spring, and Muslim revolution in general, the position of Iran has been an interesting one to watch.  While most of the revolt and demand for change has come from Arab countries of the Sunni flavor, Iran has kept itself in the mix and jockeyed for position as a leader in the region. 

Iran’s leaders have struggled to figure out how to co-opt this Sunni/Salafist uprising and get mileage out of it as a Shi’a nation state.  The result:  This week’s “Islamic Awakening Conference” in Tehran.  However, the pre-cursor to the conference provides some interesting reading, as Amir Taheri reports.

Initially, the Khomeinists in Tehran tried to ignore the whole thing. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt resembled what had happened in Iran in 2009 when IT-savvy youths led a movement against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


What if Arabs wanted an “Islamic” system, whatever that means?

Tehran would not be comfortable with that analysis either. Most Arab “Islamists” are of Salafist brand and, thus, enemies of Iran’s version of Islam.

The issue was debated within the “star chamber” that runs the Islamic Republic under “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.

The outcome of the debate was simple: the Islamic Republic should claim that Arabs revolts are inspired by Iran’s experience in 1979 when mullahs, in alliance with Communists, seized power.

Once they figured out how to spin it, then they needed to figure out how to become the front man for the revolution.  What better way than to host a conference?  Even better, at that conference claim that all these Sunni rebels are fighting in demand that a Shi’a leader be their “Imam” .

According to organizers, it attracted some 600 “scholars and political leaders” from 53 countries. It was inaugurated by Khamenei with a sermon in which he presented the late Ruhallah Khomeini as the father of the “awakening”. The implication was that, as Khomeini’s successor, he should now be regarded as “Imam of the Ummah”.

However, claiming that Arabs had risen to demand that Khamenei be their “Imam” still needed an ideological context.

But what could that be?

Obviously, the participants could not agree on theological issues. Some guests were not even ready to pray alongside their Iranian hosts. It was impossible to claim that all Muslims wanted to live under “Walayat al-Faqih”, or rule by the mullahs, as practiced in Iran.

So, what to do? The solution was found in the last refuge of the scoundrel: anti-Americanism.

Conspicuously absent from this conference was anyone who was actually fighting in any of these revolutions.  The outgrowth from the “Islamic Awakening Conference” is the “Islamic Awakening Movement”.  Tasked with selling this to the various Arab Spring countries was none other than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.  Unfortunately, they big three Arab Spring states (Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya) politely refused his visit.

Where does that leave Iran now?  The other major power-broker in the region, Turkey, is having much better luck.  The relationship between Turkey and Iran will be one to watch.

Read the entire piece here.

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