The good news: Iran may be next

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 10, 2011
Iranian demonstrators make their point during the ‘Green Revolution’ that followed the 2009 presidential poll

Iranian demonstrators make their point during the ‘Green Revolution’ that followed the 2009 presidential poll

Who's next? Which domino will be the next to fall? Which other Arab capital is about to see thousands of young demonstrators battling it out with police and calling for the speedy departure of their autocratic ruler, as we have over the past few weeks in Tunisia and Egypt?

Given that not one expert or analyst foresaw the events in Cairo and Tunis, one wonders how they can tell if and where it will happen again.

There are, of course, similarities between the two countries that are telling. In both, there is a generation of young people furious that they cannot get jobs with salaries in any way commensurate with their qualifications while a small group of regime hangers-on get rich at their expense.

In both cases, decades of repression were finally undermined largely thanks to social media networks, which allowed pro-democracy activists to organise protests outside the traditional framework of the emasculated opposition parties. And in both Egypt and Tunisia, the army refused to act on behalf of the embattled regime and put down the demonstrations.

Where will we see similar circumstances? The two countries most frequently touted as potential dominoes are Jordan and Yemen. Both of these countries have little in common with Egypt and Tunisia, which are semi-Westernised secular republics, but are seen as candidates for revolution due to the inherent weaknesses in their governing systems. Indeed, the leaders of both countries were quick to carry out placatory measures in the wake of events in Egypt; King Abdullah fired his cabinet and long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised not to run again in the 2013 presidential elections.

But neither country has the dynamics for a popular revolution. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has always been regarded a fragile entity. Four years ago, Major General Yair Naveh, now the IDF's deputy chief of staff, speculated that Abdullah would be "the last king of Jordan". But Abdullah has so far done a relatively good job of stabilising his rule since coming to power. Plus, the main revolutionary force in the kingdom is the Palestinian majority and right now they are focused on their conflict with Israel.

Yemen is a much more traditional society, few have the internet and if there is to be a change of government in Sana'a, it will probably arise from a power-sharing deal between the tribes rather than a popular uprising.

So if not Jordan or Yemen, then who? Well Syria, for one. An active, secular intelligentsia has been restive there for over a decade and they cannot have failed to take heart from Egypt. The secret police and army are all-powerful in Damascus and apparently loyal to President Bashar Assad, but we were saying that just three weeks ago about the Mubarak regime.

And how about the original Twitter revolution? The Green one, that tried to take flight on the streets of Tehran a year and a half ago, only to be ruthlessly broken by the Revolutionary Guards? They will certainly try again and, who knows, this time the Iranian Army, deeply mistrusted by the leaders of the Islamic Republic, may even join in.

Israeli intelligence officials are still deeply unsure of how the Egyptian revolution will affect the security balance in the region, but of one thing they are certain. Regime change in Iran is the ultimate game-changer.

Last updated: 12:45pm, February 10 2011