I’ve tried to keep our readers apprised, or at least aware, of the large scale protests in Lebanon and Iraq. Both sets of protests are bad news for Iran. In Lebanon, the protests are directed, in part, against Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy. In Iraq, the major target appears to be Iran itself.
Eliora Katz, writing for Tablet, calls the protests “the revolt against Iran”:
Across the Middle East, from Baghdad to Beirut, the citizens of countries thought to be part of Iran’s axis of influence have begun to revolt against Tehran. In the face of brutal crackdowns, millions of Iraqi and Lebanese protesters, in movements led by Shiite Muslims that defy reductive sectarian narratives, have erupted in revolt against the corruption and failure of their governments and Iran’s domination over their national politics.
The key element is the leadership of Shiite Muslims. As Katz argues, Iran’s plans for regional hegemony depend on it being seen as the protector of loyal Shiite Muslims, Yet Shiite Muslims are the ones leading mass protests against Iranian domination in Iraq and Lebanon.
The protests are driven by economic conditions in Lebanon and Iraq, to be sure. Iranian domination is viewed as partially to blame. In addition, though, there is probably a sense that domination by a foreign power is a bad thing in itself.
In any case, the protests are a case of nationalism — national identity — trumping religious identity.
As a companion to Katz’s article, I recommend this piece by Amir Taheri for Gatestone. He wonders whether, in the Lebanon and Iraq uprisings, we are witnessing a version of peripheral revolts that shook the Soviet Empire in its satellite territories in Eastern and Central Europe. He writes:
For years, Tehran has been trying to sell its expansionist strategy in the Middle East as a great success not only for the Islamic Revolution but also for Iranian nationalism. . . .
There is no doubt that this Khomeinist grand strategy met with some initial successes as Tehran expanded its influence in the Middle East with a minimum of blood sacrifice. Even the treasure spent on acquiring a pseudo-empire was not very big. Best estimates put Iran’s expenditure for gaining a dominant position in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen at around $40 billion over the past four decades. The daily Kayhan compared that figure with “the eight trillion dollars that Trump says the US spent in the Middle East, ending up with nothing.”
In building their empire, the mullahs made a big mistake: they prevented the emergence of genuine local authorities, including national armies that could hold things together in a semi-autonomous way. The British did that with some success in India, where they fostered a large number of maharajas, nabobs and sardars enjoying a measure of local legitimacy, while the sub-continent’s security depended on a regular army consisting largely of native, often ethnic and/or confessional minority, elements. As a result, the formal organs of state in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen were reduced to mere facades hiding the reality of power exercised by militia groups such as Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Forces, Zayanbiyoun and the Houthis. . . .
That, of course, is a repeat of the experiment in Iran itself where formal state structures, including a President, a Cabinet, various ministries and even a regular army exist, but only as facades for notorious parallel “deep state” structures that wield real power.
The analogy to the Soviet empire in Eastern and Central Europe is obvious.
This doesn’t mean that things will play out for Iran the way they did for the Soviets — not in the short term, anyway. But one can easily understand why there is panic in Iran over the way things are playing out in Lebanon and Iraq right now.