(CNSNews.com) – Media in the Arab world are generally reporting cautiously on the protests rocking Egypt following the shakeup in Tunisia, but those in Iran are giving the turmoil prominent, almost gleeful, coverage.
Sunni Egypt, viewed as the leader of the Arab world, and Shi’ite Iran are longstanding rivals.
Iranian outlets, especially those linked to the government and establishment, are using terms like “revolution” and “uprising” to describe the protests, painting the demonstrators as heroic and giving headline treatment to voices predicting the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.
The approach is in sharp contrast to their treatment of Iran’s own political upheaval following disputed presidential elections 18 months ago. Then many Iranian media organizations promoted the government position and treated protestors unsympathetically – even with contempt. (Traditional media was also heavily censored during that period.)
The Tehran Times, Iran Daily and Resalat newspapers were among those that led their Thursday editions with the Egypt story, using headlines like “Spirit of Tunisia comes to Egypt,” “Egyptians demand end to Mubarak rule” and “Intensification of public protests against Mubarak regime.”
The Tehran Times describes itself as the mouthpiece of the Islamic revolution, Iran Daily is affiliated with the official state IRNA news agency, and Resalat is a conservative daily supportive of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Press TV, which is semi-official and gets state funding, quoted a former Arab League diplomat as saying the uprising in Tunisia was “one of the most inspiring events of the Arab world in the contemporary time,” empowering people in various countries suffering under dictatorships.
“Egypt on verge of revolution,” ran a headline on another story published by Press TV, citing the opinions of a Lebanon-based Mideast scholar. The same story and headline were replicated on the Web site of Iran’s state broadcaster, IRIB.
Some media worked the word “revolution” into headlines even when using wire service copy that did not include the term.
Press TV ran an unscientific poll asking viewers to predict the outcome of the “popular uprising” in Egypt. As of early Friday almost half of respondents said it would lead to Mubarak’s departure from the country, 28 percent said it would be quelled with U.S. support, and roughly the same number selected the option saying it would “bring about Mubarak’s collapse but the remnants of the system will persist.”
Under the headline “Arab world despotism nearing collapse,” IRIB quoted an Islamist analyst, Azzam Tamimi, as saying that regimes were under threat not just Egypt but also Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
“The U.S. administration is helplessly watching the situation as dictators, which it has backed for decades, are overthrown or on the verge,” commentator Salman Ansari Javid wrote in a Tehran Times op-ed.
“Sooner or later we will have to add these dictators to the list of the endangered species,” he said. “The sooner the better.”
The IRNA news agency highlighted the views of a leading Egyptian scholar, Kamal Helbawi, who predicted the downfall of the regime and said Mubarak may emulate ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile earlier this month.
“The people want release from American hegemony and Israeli monopoly and manipulation,” Helbawi told IRNA.
Relations between Egypt and post-revolution Iran historically have been strained over Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and its ties with the U.S., its support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and the state burial Egypt gave the ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (whose first wife was an Egyptian princess) in 1980. After President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Iran angered Egypt by naming a street in Tehran after the leader of the assassination plot, who was executed.
The two Muslim countries repeatedly have clashed over the Palestinian issue. Iran is a key backer of Hamas, the terrorist group spawned in 1987 by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak’s main Islamist rival.
The Egyptian government, meanwhile, supports Hamas’ adversary, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, and maintains a security blockade on the border between Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Cairo has also accused Tehran of using another proxy in the Arab world, Hezbollah in Lebanon, to destabilize Egypt.
In one of the classified State Department cables released by Wikileaks late last year, the U.S. envoy in Cairo reported in 2009 that Mubarak had “a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as ‘liars,’ and denouncing them for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region.”
“There is no doubt that Egypt sees Iran and its greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its ‘Shia revolution,’” Ambassador Margaret Scobey wrote in the cable, according to published reports.
‘Wisdom, enlightened vision’
In contrast to the rhetoric-laden Iranian coverage of the Egyptian protests, most newspapers in Arab states are carrying wire service or correspondents’ reports about the developments with little added comment, along with calls from some quarters for reforms in the region.
Others are playing down the protests while some official news agencies, especially in the Gulf and North Africa, are virtually ignoring them.
The only report in Libya’s JANA news agency relating to Egypt, for example, was a brief item saying that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had phoned Mubarak on Wednesday to consult on “matters of common interest.”
Bahrain’s King Hamad also phoned Mubarak, to stress the “strategic importance of Egypt and its pivotal role as a guarantor of Arab stability,” Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News reported in an item that made no direct reference to the protests.
The king had also hailed Mubarak’s “wisdom, enlightened vision and aspiration to ensure a better future for his people,” the report added.