Protest and Regime Change: Different Experiences of the Arab Uprisings and the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election Protests

Published date01 April 2020
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Protest and Regime
Change: Different
Experiences of the
Arab Uprisings and the
2009 Iranian Presidential
Election Protests
Kamran Rabiei1
Political developments, such as the ‘Arab Spring’, have led the Middle East
and North Africa (MENA) towards instability, unrest and severe sectarian
confrontations. Nearly 2 years before the ‘Arab Spring’, ‘the Iranian Green
Movement’ swept over the country and led to the expectations that Iran would
undergo a fundamental political change. The article addresses an important
question as to why the 2009 Iranian unrest known as the ‘Green Movement’
did not lead to regime change, while on the other hand, the ‘Arab Spring’
ultimately led to the change of political systems in Tunisia and Egypt. Further,
some significant factors are highlighted anticipating the degree of stability and
instability for the future of political regimes in the MENA region.
Protest, regime change, Arab Spring, Iran’s Green Movement, Tunisia, Egypt
After the end of the cold war and the changes in the international power system, the
Middle East and North Africa (MENA), whether intentionally or unintentionally,
was at the centre of the international spotlight. The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq
in 1990 and its liberation operations, the US invasion on Iraq in 2003, the Green
Movement in Iran, the fast and unprecedented developments known as the Arab
Spring in 2011, the emergence of the Islamic State and ISIS phenomenon and the
subsequent flux of refugees to Europe and ultimately the USA–Iran tensions in
1 Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Tarbiat Modares University, Nasr Bridge, Chamran
Highway, Tehran, Iran.
Corresponding author:
Kamran Rabiei, Department of Sociology, Tarbiat Modares University, Nasr Bridge, Chamran
Highway, Tehran 14115-139, Iran.
International Studies
57(2) 144–170, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720913413
Research Article
Rabiei 145
the Persian Gulf have formed a great part of the world public opinion and political
analyses about the MENA region.In relation to the Arab Spring, in Iran, and
especially at the official level, efforts were made to interpret political developments
as "Islamic awakening" and to introduce the 1979 Islamic Revolution as an
inspiration for Arab Muslim nations to revolt against their rulers. Moreover, some
analysts looked at the effect of Iranian Green Movement on the developments in
Tunisia and Egypt. They believe that the Green Movement at least showed how it
was possible to use the mass media and social networks to mobilize masses against
the regime in Tahrir Square (Rafati, 2012, p. 49).
Of 42466 Twitter messages on the keyword ‘Egyptian uprising’ analysed over
the first 2 weeks after January 25, , only 69 referred to Iran and only 3 cases were
in Arabic (Kurzman, 2012, p. 162). Such data show absence of direct impact of the
Green Movement on the Arab Spring. However, if we place the Green Movement
alongside Iraq after the developments in 2003 and consider the news coverage of
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya along with other most popular satellite networks, we
find that the Green Movement was effective in the gradual process of change in the
understanding and political imagination and an increase in the demands and
expectations of Egyptians and Tunisians. In other words, the Green Movement has
been effective in spreading democracy-seeking discourse in the MENA region.
Not only were there some differences between the Green Movement and the
Arab Spring in terms of the factors that contribute to the emergence and
development of the protests, but the Arab countries themselves have also had
serious differences in the goals and manner of organizing the protests, the extent
of the protests and the uprising, as well as in the forces and social segments
involved. These differences also embrace the circumstances before the onset of
the Arab Spring (Anderson, 2011). Analysis of written documents concerning
Arab Spring shows that the authorities have paid little attention to the above-
mentioned differences. They have paid more attention to common factors and
similar causes effective in the occurrence of the mass protests. The article
considers only Tunisia and Egypt for analysis. Libya, Syria and Yemen are
excluded, as foreign military intervention totally changed the equation between
the government and people and prepared the background for the change of the
system. Therefore, the two cases of Tunisia and Egypt are more comparable to
Iran than the cases of Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The article is mainly devoted to the causes for the regime change due to mass
protests in Tunisia and Egypt and failure in regime change in Iran. The outcomes
of the Arab Spring and the rate of success and failure of the countries in transition
to democracy are not taken into consideration. In fact, the causes and processes
of the Arab uprisings are the subject of this article, not the consequences of these
political developments.
Explanation of Protest and Regime Change in
MENA: A Theoretical Framework
A variety of theoretical approaches have emerged to explain and understand the
reasons for the occurrence of revolutions, creation and continuity of social

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