Support from the public in the Gulf but official silence about Iran demonstrations

The Arabic hashtags “Uprising of the Iranian people” and “Iran protests” trended in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, generating 500,000 tweets in the first 48 hours of the protests.
Sunday 07/01/2018
A map locating the main cities hit by anti-government protests in Iran

London - The violent protests in Iran caught the world off guard and Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) coun­tries were no exception.

There was, however, conspicu­ous silence by senior Gulf officials about the events that could have a significant effect on the region and relations between Iran and its Arab neighbours.

The demonstrations in Iran were seemingly motivated by econom­ic conditions but quickly turned overtly against the clerical rulers, with chants of “Death to the dic­tator” levelled at Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many in the Gulf said they felt vindicated by the demonstrators’ complaints that the easing of sanc­tions after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered with world powers had little effect on their lives as the leadership in Tehran funded expansionist designs in the region, which most GCC countries have complained about.

Gulf officials, however, were keen on not being seen or inter­fering with protests since open of­ficial support from GCC countries could lend credence to Tehran’s claims that the demonstrations were manipulated from the out­side.

However, expressions of sup­port from public opinion in the Gulf countries were widespread. The Arabic hashtags “Uprising of the Iranian people” and “Iran pro­tests” trended in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, generat­ing 500,000 tweets in the first 48 hours of the protests.

Social media users in the Gulf re­gion forwarded videos and photos in support of the protesters. One user identifying himself as Faisal wrote: “This is a result of spend­ing billions on terrorist militias, while your people live in poverty.” A Twitter user in Bahrain named Madmarham wrote: “Iran wanted our countries to witness unrest but now it reaps what it sowed.”

“Supporting Iran protests means believing in people’s right to dem­onstrate against a government that imposes additional taxes, increas­es the prices, manipulates religion and interferes in other countries at the expense of its people’s wel­fare,” wrote Kuwaiti TV presenter Ali al-Sanad on his Twitter ac­count.

Gulf media, whose stands often reflect official positions, ex­pressed clear support to demon­strators.

“Here is the battle in the depth of Iran… indeed an overwhelm­ing popular uprising. Let’s do our best to support the Iranians with all their ethnicities against the Khamenei occupation,” a column­ist wrote in the Saudi daily Okaz.

Some voices cautioned against possible repercussions of abrupt regime change in Tehran. In a com­mentary in the Saudi-owned pan- Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, for­mer Editor-in-Chief Abdulrahman al-Rashid wrote that the fall of the Tehran regime might not be the best option for the region.

“If the uprising of the Iranian people were to bring about a change in Iranian policy and to stop its external operations and force the regime to shift to inter­nal reform and development, that would be the ideal option,” wrote Rashid compared with what he de­scribed as the “horrifying scenario that a regime collapse would en­tail.”

The same publication carried an interview with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi urging the international community to support the protesters and calling on them to pursue the path of civil disobedience.

“If the government has not lis­tened to you for 38 years, your role has come to ignore what the gov­ernment says to you now,” Ebadi was quoted as saying.

Media in the UAE were also sup­portive of the protesters. “The Iranian people have suffered from poverty, hunger and joblessness over four decades and suffer from rampant corruption among ruling bodies, security services and army commanders,” stated an editorial in the Emirati daily Al-Bayan.

In a stark contrast, Qatari media appeared to echo the official nar­rative of Iran. “Tehran pledges to respond decisively to law viola­tors,” was the headline of Qatar’s al-Watan newspaper.

Qatar has been singled out by several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as sup­porting Iran at the expense of its Arab neighbours. Doha’s cosy ties with Tehran have been one of the main reasons for the dispute be­tween Qatar and a quartet of coun­tries, which severed ties with Qa­tar last year.