Nations, like individuals, are judged in part by the company they keep: their alliances and close relationships, and the governments they support. And that old adage is creating real trouble for the ayatollahs in Tehran.
As an informative Wall Street Journal article reminds us, Iran has been on the wrong side in the Arab Spring—nowhere more than in Syria:
Iran’s steadfast support for Syria’s regime has rapidly eroded Tehran’s credibility among Arabs, leaving the country with a foreign-policy dilemma as popular uprisings mount across the region. Supporting President Bashar al-Assad will further diminish Tehran’s already troubled standing in the region…. a new poll the Arab-American Institute conducted in six Arab countries and released in July showed Iran’s popularity has fallen drastically. The poll, taken during the first three weeks of June, asked more than 4,000 Arabs questions that included whether Iran contributed to peace and stability in the Middle East. In Egypt, only 37% had a favorable view of Iran, compared with 89% in 2006. In Saudi Arabia, the number dropped to 6% from 85%, while in Jordan it fell to 23% from 75%.
Nor can Iran fix the problem, for it cannot abandon its only Arab ally—the Assad regime in Damascus. More generally, what Arabs are demanding this year cannot be supplied or supported by the regime in Tehran: free elections, freedom of speech and press, justice. So the Arab Spring and the ideal of democracy inevitably diminish the appeal of Iran, ending the period of years in which its influence was felt to be expanding unstoppably.
Iran is not the only “republic” lacking enthusiasm for the Arab Spring. Several members of the Qaddafi family have fled to Algeria. In view of the UN-approved travel ban on them, Algeria’s reception of them may be in violation of the international sanctions.
But even assuming it is not, even assuming it was a justifiable humanitarian measure or a gesture made to advance peace in Libya, it must be a reminder to Algerians that their own “republic” is one of the few remaining hold-outs to the advance of democracy outside of the monarchies. Despite a few vague promises of reform, there has been no real change in Algeria and “le pouvoir” (French for “the power,” the network of military and security officials who run the country behind the visible officials) remains in control. Algeria is a rich country due to oil and gas resources, but little of that wealth trickles down to the populace. As for democracy and human rights, Freedom House gives Algeria a very low rating and calls it “not free.” The regime in Algeria, like that Iran, must be nervously watching the neighborhood reject just such political systems.