The Western media coverage of protests around the world has taken an interesting turn in the last few months.
When one million Egyptians protested for 17 or more days in the Egyptian capital, the world’s media launched into a frenzy of talk about democracy, freedom and a wave of popular protest. A peaceful uprising involving prayer and amicable relations with the security forces succeeded in ending the 30 year rule of Hosni Mubarak.
However, the media coverage culminated with a line drawn from Tunisia to Egypt to Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Djibouti and beyond which told an unlikely narrative of democracy sweeping through the world like an unstoppable wave.
When grainy footage of various protests in Iran surfaced today, the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton hailed the “right to protest” of the nameless figures. There are two issues here. Firstly, the protests shown occurring in Iran do not mirror the protests which took place in Egypt in character or in volume. Secondly, the comment from the US Secretary of State exposes a double standard in the reaction to protests around the world.
A voice over from the BBC says “they are copying the type of protests they have seen in Egypt”. But are they? One might understand a certain amount of synergy within the Arab world, especially with the availability of pan-Arab media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, but as a Persian country with a language, culture and history distinct from the Arab world, one might not expect an immediate parallel to be drawn by opposition or rebel leaders in Iran.
Where is the restraint and respect for sovereignty which was expressed by world leaders during the Egyptian protests? Fearful of offending Saudi Arabia, leaders around the world spoke of “not interfering” in the political process or sovereignty of Egypt. However, as soon as a trickle of protest arose in Iran, Western governments have leapt on the opportunity to criticise the government of the Islamic Republic.
It would seem that a positive trend in democracy is being leveraged for the foreign policy aims of a few Western powers.