What do residents of the Iranian capital think about the wave of uprisings and unrest in the Arab world that have toppled the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt and are continuing to rock countries such as Libya, Bahrain and Yemen?
The Times asked a number of people in the streets of Tehran about their thoughts on what's going on in the Arab world and what they think will be the outcome of the upheavals. The responses yielded an array of reactions and differing opinions.
However, the interviewees were unified when it came to Libya, agreeing that its leader, Moammar Kadafi, must go. Many also expressed concerns about protest-stricken Bahrain -- a neighboring country with a Shiite majority population, some of whom are loyal to Iran, but is ruled by a minority Sunni dynasty -- and said the government is cracking down heavily on the Shiite demonstrators.
Mozhgan Faraji, a 33-year-old Iranian journalist, said she felt that Western countries are paying much greater attention to the war in Libya than to the demonstrations and unrest in Bahrain and Yemen and wondered why that is the case.
"I am baffled," she told the Times. "Why on Earth are the Western powers not interested in the unrest in Yemen and Bahrain? Are human rights in Yemen and Bahrain not as important as in Libya ? Perhaps the Western countries are worried about the emerging revolutionary brand of Shiite in the region. But honestly, I am happy that the crazy leader of Libya is going to be toppled."
Ali Kakavwand, a 44-year-old professor of English linguistics, expressed concern about what he described as a clampdown on Shiite demonstrators in Bahrain and said there is a need to change the political dynamics in Syria, where the Assad family has been in power for many decades.
"I am very upset for the suppression and savage crackdown of my fellow Shiites in Bahrain," he told The Times. "I wish them to be able to have more share of power. I am also angry with Saudis for demolishing the shrines of our imams in Shiite-dominated area in Saudi Arabia.
But I have no stance concerning Yemen. I do not know who is right, who is wrong in Yemen. I believe the people of Syria also have a right to change their officials and leaders. The Assad family and the Baath Party are dominating the country for more than 50 years, so let's change the faces. I wish to see the toppling of Kadafi as soon as possible. He has been responsible for the vanishing of Imam Mosa Sadr."
Dokhi Sofi, a 48-year old housewife, said she is convinced that foreign plotters from the U.S. and Britain are orchestrating the Arab protests. She added that she thinks that as a result of Western sponsorship of the uprisings, Bahrain and Yemen are likely to be taken over by Islamists and become theocracies.
"I think Great Britain and the U.S. administration are behind the unrest in the region," she said. "They did the same with us 32 years ago and now the pro-U.S. and pro-U.K. are emerging in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. So the next regimes in these countries will be sort of Islamic. Like the Islamic Republic of Yemen or Bahrain."
Meanwhile, a 50-year-old real estate broker who only gave his name as Hasan said he is focusing on what is going on in Iran's close ally, Syria, where protests recently broke out. If change occurs in Syria, he reasoned, it will likely affect Iran in some way.
"I only focus on Syria, and I think that if there is change in Syria, there will be some impact here in Iran. The Syrian regime is the extended hand of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Middle East. So I wish for a regime change or at least a multiparty system in Syria and deep reform. I do not care about other countries for the time being."
And 25-year-old Sasan, an engineering student at Tehran University, said he doesn't really care about politics and is focusing on work and play instead.
"I do not care about the uprisings in the regional countries as long as I have a well-paid job here in my country and can have fun now. I can have fun, and I have decently paid job. I do not give a damn about politics, whatever it is," he said.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran
Photo: Protesters in Bahrain look at a tear-gas canister fired by police during a demonstration near the capital on Feb. 14. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images