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MIDDLE EAST: Ignoring Egyptians, Iran continues to hail 'Islamic awakening'

February 8, 2011 |  8:32 am

Both the Egyptian foreign ministry and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood have said the popular protest movement sweeping the country has nothing to do with Iran, or Islam.

But that hasn't stopped Iranian officials from continuing to try and cast the uprising as an "Islamic awakening" in the tradition of their own 1979 Islamic Revolution.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the foreign ministry praised the "justice-seeking" protest movement sweeping Egypt and warned against the meddling of foreign powers in Egypt's affairs.

"Anyone who tries to interfere in the internal affairs of this country and cause a diversion on the path of the popular movement will have to deal with the Egyptian nation," Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference, according to state television.

When asked specifically about the Egyptian foreign ministry's statements, Mehmanparast questioned the authority of the ministry to speak for the people.

"A great movement is taking place in Egypt, and the first step of this movement was to question the trust and authorities of a person who controlled the government," he said. "Therefore, if someone is not to be trusted from the Egyptian people's point of view, their remarks will definitely have no authority for us."

Many in the Iranian opposition, however, have accused members of the government of being hypocritical in their support of protests in Egypt and Tunisia after brutally cracking down on Iranians who went to the streets following the 2009 disputed presidential elections.

On Monday, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri ran an editorial from Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani. He called on the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to spread to all Muslim countries.

"What is taking place these days, especially in the two important and influential North African Islamic countries, has a long and gradual sequence in the political history of Egypt and Tunisia, whose rulers either did not hear or did not want to hear their people's protests," he wrote.

"In the Islamic societies, if progressive Islamic rules are relied upon in order to claim social and political rights, no dictator, even if under immense support from the foreign powers, will be able to stop the people's movements, in the same way as the Pahlavi [shah's] regime was not able to survive despite all the claims and support," he continued.

Iran's ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, also expressed support for the Egyptian protest movement, but was at least savvy enough not to mischaracterize it as an Islamic uprising transforming the region. In fact, he somewhat disassociated his group from the unrest.

"Had this movement, this solidarity, and this support been expressed earlier ... it would have been said that those staging a sit-in in the Tahrir Square and the demonstrators in the Egyptian cities were moved by cells belonging to Hezbollah or Hamas as they have started to say, or to the Iranian Revolution Guards," he said. "This national, genuine, and real movement would then be accused of serving a foreign agenda."

Nasrallah's caution could be due to Hezbollah's sensitivity to internal Lebanese politics, which is based on a precariously balanced power-sharing agreement between Christians and Muslims. He could also be concerned about accusations of hypocrisy; Hezbollah was conspicuously silent when Iranian security forces were  beating, arresting, torturing and executing opposition "Green Movement" protesters in Iran.

Hezbollah also has a personal bone to pick with Egypt, after several dozen of its members were arrested in the Sinai two years ago.

Many of them are reported to have escaped in the recent unrest.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Iranian men hold a flag of Lebanon's Hezbollah and a picture showing President Obama meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak during a protest after Friday prayers at Palestine Square in Tehran to show support for tens of thousands of Egyptian demonstrators gathered in Cairo. Credit: Behrouz Mehri / AFP/Getty Images