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Will Egypt re-energize Iran's 'Green Movement'?

Both the Iranian government and the opposition "Green Movement" are claiming the protests in Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak as their own.
Image: Iranian President Ahmadinejad holds a placard as he takes part in a rally to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds a placard as he takes part in a rally to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran on Friday. Note: The photographer was subject to Iranian government restrictions. RAHEB HOMAVANDI / Reuters
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Both sides in Iran are claiming the cause of the Egypt protests as their own: The opposition “Green Movement” heralds the protesters' push for democracy, while the Iranian government says their demonstrations follow in the footsteps of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah and put the Shiite Muslim clergy in power.

“Victory is imminent ... arrogant powers are close to hitting the end ... Our nation supports your choice," Reuters quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling a crowd of thousands gathered in Tehran on Friday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Analysts say it’s not clear what impact the protests in Egypt and the downfall of that country’s president will have on the opposition Green Movement in Iran, but Tehran appears to be taking notice of the upheaval.

“It is interesting to see the nervousness of the Iranian government currently,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, referring to recent reports of a crackdown on opposition figures. “They don’t want to go back into the situation in which they once again would face a lot of popular discontent and uprising amongst the people. That has come about because of the stuff in Tunisia and Egypt.”

That nervousness, he added, has made them try “to frame this as being in some strange way in support of the regime, which clearly does not seem to be the case.”

Mohsen Milani, chair of the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida, made a similar point.

“The Islamic Republic is going to say it is not accidental that the day that Iran celebrates its revolution our Egyptian brethren are celebrating their own revolution,” he said. “They are going to try to connect this to some kind of divine plan, which is absolute nonsense.”

Mass opposition protests, known as the “Green Movement,” erupted in Iran after the disputed presidential election in 2009.

The protests ended in December of that year, after escalating violence and a government crackdown on the opposition. But the leaders remain vocal and had earlier this week requested permission to hold a solidarity rally with the Egyptian demonstrators on Monday – despite authorities’ warnings not to do so.

The government apparently responded with a pre-emptive strike. Opposition websites said one leader, Mehdi Karroubi, had been placed under house arrest and at least eight moderate activists and journalists had been detained since Wednesday, Reuters reported.

But Parsi noted that after the change in Egypt, “There seems to be a certain willingness (among the protest leaders) to take another risk to go out once again.”

“They are operating on a very interesting and very clever headline, which essentially is that because the Iran government itself says that they support the protests in Egypt … why wouldn’t then people be able to go out and protest in favor of the Egyptians?” he said.

Online voices also encouraged the Iranian opposition to follow in Egyptians’ footsteps.

On Twitter, deltforce1 wrote after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s sudden departure on Friday: “Is #Iran next? Let #Egypt be an inspiration for #Iranian freedom fighters.”

But Tehran is not likely to allow the protest to take place, said Daniel Brumberg, co-director of the Democracy and Governance Studies program at Georgetown University.

“They won’t be able to act very easily on that inspiration for now,” he said.  “While they (Tehran) proclaim their support for what has happened in Egypt, they are probably studying the Egyptian example to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen in Iran.”

The Iranian government response to any opposition moves will likely be further repression, said Milani, and it may be a while before a renewed "Green Movement” can translate new energy into political action.

“This is just the beginning of this earthquake that is going to shake the region,” he said. “But at the same time, I really think this is going to energize the Iranian youth. In the long run … I think this is going to be good for the Green Movement.”