City of Brass

City of Brass

Why do we care so much about Iran?

Something that struck me about the Green Revolution in Iran is how invested the world is in it. It touches on all the right narratives: telegenic, courageous youth facing off against dour mullahs on the streets, straight out of the lyrics of Buffalo Springfield. But why not elsewhere? Why, for example, aren’t Americans and the Twitterverse abuzz about the Egyptian democratic reform movement? Is it because Egypt is under a secular autocracy rather than a religious one? Or something else?

I posed this question at Talk Islam and it sparked an interesting, if somewhat tangential, discussion. The best response so far though to the question has been from Willow Wilson (author of Cairo and AIR), who lived in Egypt for a few years after converting to Islam. She responded,


The Egyptian state is much cannier at repressing dissent (and the reportage on dissent) so it looks like there’s much less civil discontent in Egypt than there actually is. Hence, less global interest. They’ve been steadily rounding up bloggers for the past half-decade. Most of the first wave of Egyptian bloggers I knew are now in jail. All but the most hardened western journalists stay within the confines the regime sets for them (go here but not here; talk to these people but not those). And, it’s a military regime. The army is loyal to the army, period. If there were ever mass protests as there are in Iran, you’d have regiments of infantry firing into crowds. It’d be Tianamen Square on steroids.


Even in the heyday of Al Ghad, the opposition was never allowed to get as organized as the opposition in Iran.

What does this imply about the value of the massive, unconditional foreign aid we supply to Egypt every year, second only to Israel? Is that money to buy stability in the region, for our and Israel’s benefit alone, and blind to the freedom of the Egyptian people? Something to consider, indeed – especially since Obama himself gave a big speech recently about this over there…

Speaking of Buffalo Springfield, here’s That Song


Related – articles about the Egyptian foreign aid at the CS Monitor and the Forward. Also, via POMED, a reminder that most of the aid to Egypt is “security” and does not provide any tangible economic benefit to the people.

  • E.D. Kain

    Aziz – I think it has mostly to do with the event. There is no similar event of scale or passion happening in Egypt. If there were, it’s possible (though not necessarily likely) that we’d see a similar reaction. Hard to say.

  • zain

    i dont know why too much shouting regarding iranian election. may be ahmed nijad return. after all it is matter of iranian people. india not cares such happenings.

  • Your Name

    Iran is dangerous, strategic, and an important geo-political player, and may be approaching a point of departure from the past.
    If Iran is at a tipping point, here may be someone who may be the face of the way forward. As an architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran he fell out of favour with Khomeini in 1989:

  • Roberta Hubbard

    Yes, exactly my thoughts. When so much attention was drawn to Iran, I wondered well, why hasn’t Egypt gotten such attention when Egypt was putting the next running presidental candidate in jail so many times….???? The Egyptian people need support and help from their government too.

  • California #1!

    I can think of three reasons –
    1) The event – The Iranian struggle resembles our foundational struggle and resonates with us. Iranians are standing up for their rights just like the patriots of 1776. We respect and support people who fight for their rights, but we don’t see Egyptians or Palestinians doing this. The Palestinian activism we see is associated with suicide bombers and people dancing with delight on 9-11.
    2) Image of the people – We can relate to the Iranians more easily. Our image of Iran is of middle class, cosmopolitan, pro-American, idealistic youth. Our image of the Arab world is of angry people in galabiyas, much more alien.
    3) Iranians are reportedly pro-American, while Arabs are demonstrably not. It’s much harder to empathize with people who hate you.
    I’m sure if the Egyptians started protesting en masse, and said an occasional kind word about us, we’d come to respect them. Then you’d see pictures of heroic modern youth throwing rocks and cute protest girls chanting for freedom, and our hearts would melt.

  • hana

    California#1, Iranians are not pro-American and Arabs do not hate US, point 1, 2 and 3 are absolutely false. Did you even read what was quoted by Willow Wilson?

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