Cartoon by Gary Garvel
Protests threaten Iran’s ascendant role in the Middle East
The Washington Post: The sudden eruption of political unrest in Iran has presented an unforeseen challenge to Tehran’s ascendant influence in the Middle East, potentially threatening Iran’s claims to regional hegemony just when it seemed to have secured an unassailable role.
The demonstrations, triggered mostly by popular disaffection with the stagnant economy, come at a time when Iran has been boasting about its newfound clout, won mainly by intervening in the region’s many wars.
Iran’s role as the Middle East’s most consequential power has been cemented by its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, for the Shiite militias in Iraq fighting the Islamic State, for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and for the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
But the interventions have been costly and, as the demonstrations have revealed, unpopular — at least with some Iranians.
“No Gaza, no Lebanon, our lives for Iran,” the crowds chanted at one of the first demonstrations, a reference to Iranian support for the Palestinian Hamas movement in Gaza and for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Leave Syria alone, think about us,” and “Death to Hezbollah” are among the other slogans.
These are a reminder that Iran’s power plays in the region have come at a price, according to Mohamad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University who is writing a book about Iran’s role in the region and its rivalry with Saudi Arabia.
“For the past few months, if not years, Iran has been viewed as ascendant. They’ve been, quote, winning in the Middle East,” he said. “And now we find out Iranians don’t approve of their government spending all this money in places like Lebanon and Syria.” >>>