TEHRAN (Reuters) - Seen from Iran, Libya is either the latest dictatorship to fall to an “Islamic awakening” that will unite the Muslim Middle East, or a new foothold for the treacherous West to assert its economic and political domination over the region.
Muammar Gaddafi, who fled his Tripoli compound this week, was no friend to the Islamic Republic which considered him a flamboyant despot almost as bad as the despised former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“Like Saddam who killed his people, in a five-month civil war he killed thousands,” said the conservative Resalat daily which accused Gaddafi of being an ally of Israel, the worst possible insult in Tehran’s view, citing the disappearance of the Iranian-born leader of Lebanese Shi‘ites, Imam Musa Sadr, on a visit to Libya in 1978.
That incident still resonates in Iran where Gaddafi is widely seen as a brutal maverick who played a double game with the West, in recent years dumping his nuclear program to shake off sanctions, something Tehran has said it will never do.
So it was no surprise that non-Arab Iran hailed his fall as a blessing -- the latest good news from the Arab Spring.
“The heroic Libyan nation rose up against the oppressor leaders of their own volition and proved that in the era of the awakening of nations, there is no room for tyranny and that the demands of the people must be respected,” said parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
Kar va Kargar daily printed pictures of the fallen leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya followed by those of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, figures Iran hopes will be the next dominos to fall to popular unrest.
But Gaddafi’s fate brings potential dangers to Iran’s interests in the region, not least because of the heavy involvement of the West in his downfall.
“America and its allies came to the scene to manage the Libyan revolution and guide it under their control and their hidden goals,” Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of the hardline daily Kayhan, wrote in a leader.
With their shouts of “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest) and “Gaddafi is an infidel!,” the rebels had shown their desire for an Islamic state, he added.
“There are great masses of people who have explicitly announced they want an establishment based on the teaching of Islam,” Shariatmadari wrote, supporting the line of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has dubbed the Arab Spring an “Islamic Awakening,” inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution that replaced a Western-backed king with a Muslim theocracy.
Supporters of Iran’s opposition Green movement, whose protests after the disputed June 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were crushed by security forces, are watching the Arab uprisings with a mixture of admiration, regret for their own movement’s failure and concern about what might replace dictatorial regimes there.
“Remember what happened to the Iranian people 30 years ago,” said Ehsan, a factory manager who was born in the year of Iran’s revolution. “Be careful not to be deceived by another dictatorial regime.”
While many observers of this year’s unprecedented events in the Arab world deny that the uprisings are primarily religious in nature, no one doubts the desire of the West to see post-revolution regimes that are friendly to its strategic and economic interests -- something seen by many in Iran as a plot.
“NATO and the West, definitely those countries will not be willing to leave Libya and they want to have a long-term dominance over its oil resources and even the soil of that country,” conservative daily Siyasat-e Ruz said.
“They are using Libya as a replacement for Egypt for dominance over the whole of Africa and serving the Zionists. The domineering goals of NATO are a serious threat for the future of Libya.”
With fighting still raging in parts of Libya, no one can be sure what a new government will look like, said Iranian journalist Ghanbar Naderi, who predicted a new Libya would not be in the pocket of the West.
“It’s not going to be 100 percent what Iran is looking for and it’s not going to be 100 percent what the West is looking for,” Naderi told Reuters. “The West is not certain that the new people who will be in charge will listen to them or respect the status quo.”
That uncertainty about future loyalties of new Arab regimes means the West fears a possible rise in Iran’s influence, Naderi said, giving the Islamic Republic a singular role in the “chess game” being played in the region.
“Egypt is already using Iran as a bargaining chip to get more from the West ... Iran knows that,” Naderi said, saying Cairo’s new leaders are using the threat of a rapprochement with the Iranian “bogeyman” to squeeze more concessions.
“Iran is certainly going to be a winner in the ongoing Arab Spring,” he said
That optimistic outlook may well change if the domino effect reaches Syria, the region’s one true ally to Iran where hardliners dismiss protesters against President Bashar al-Assad as puppets of Israel and the West.
One of the few certainties is that events in Libya will do nothing to deter Iran from its nuclear path.
Less than a decade after ending his diplomatic isolation by abandoning efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Gaddafi was being pounded by NATO bombs -- not an outcome to inspire Iran to start trusting the West .
Iran’s rulers see Western policies, the switching of allegiances in Egypt and Libya, as opportunistic, Naderi said, and, while Tehran insists its nuclear drive is not aimed at getting atomic bombs, it is determined not to give into Western pressure to drop the technology it sees as a sovereign right.
“I think the best foreign policy now is for Iran to stick to its guns,” said Naderi. “If it gives up its nuclear program it will certainly have a fate such as Gaddafi‘s.”
Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi and Mitra Amiri; Editing by Jon Hemming