Taking a cue from the Egyptian revolution, opposition activists in Iran reinvigorated their beleaguered movement on Monday, getting thousands of protesters onto the streets despite the regime's year-long crackdown and ban on demonstrations. Their chants were telling. Referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, demonstrators chanted, "Mubarak, Ben Ali -- it's your turn, Seyyed Ali!" and "Whether Cairo or Tehran, death to tyrants!" In an interview posted on InsideIran.org, a student who helped organize the protests said, "People don't realize how tense the situation is in Tehran. It is a powder keg and only needs a trigger."
Such sentiments were similar to those in 2009, when Iran also seemed on the verge of change after the so-called Green Movement took to the streets to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection. At the time, members of the Green Movement were conflicted about whether an endorsement from the United States would help or hurt their cause. And for its part, Washington was hesitant to support the movement, fearing that it might taint the opposition if its involvement created the impression that the United States was behind the protests. In the end, the state cracked down, the protests lost momentum, and the movement failed.
The uprising in Egypt has put to rest some of the Iranian opposition's fears: observing the support U.S. President Barack Obama gave Egyptians at critical moments in their three-week uprising, many Iranian activists were convinced that Obama's backing of their cause would give the opposition the push it needs to confront its authoritarian rulers over the long haul. Of course, Obama waited days to endorse the Egyptian uprising, but when he did it sent the message that the United States would not pressure Egypt's military to keep former President Hosni Mubarak in power. This alone heartened Egypt's opposition. A similar endorsement could do the same for Iran's.
It is also far less true today than in 2009 that U.S. support would tarnish Iran's opposition movement: it is already clear that