Is Iran the model for reform in the Mideast? To anti-democratic regimes, is Iran frightening not because of its nuclear ambitions but because it offers a model of, by regional standards, a relatively moderate, modern, democratic state?
Consider: despite all the viciousness of the regime toward mostly very peaceful and very moderate protestors expressing very minimal demands, the fact remains that by the standards of Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel (as far as Palestinians are concerned), Iran looks very modern and democratic.
- In Iran, intense criticism of the regime and of individuals is printed in the mass media.
- In Iran, there are a parliament, elections, open organizations that while not quite modern political parties nevertheless express political positions.
- In Iran, checks and balances against dictatorship are assiduously built into the state structure.
It is wonderful to measure countries against the standard of perfect democracy and not so bad to measure the laggards against the high achievers, either. But let's be a little more fair about our day-to-day metric for judging a country that has only been allowed to figure things out for itself for a generation. Compare Iran to the U.S. if you wish, but the relevant comparison might be Iran today vs. the U.S. a generation after it was formed. Does anyone remember the Alien and Sedition Laws, slavery, or the vote for men only? Or perhaps we should compare Iran today with the U.S. today: say, treatment of protestors in Iran jails today vs. treatment of prisoners at Bagram or Guantanamo.
But much more relevant would be to compare neighbors. Compare the treatment of elite dissenters in Iran with Egypt's treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood or Saudi Arabia's treatment of the leaders of Riyadh Spring or Jordan's treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Compare Iran's treatment of Majlis criticism with Israel's treatment of Palestinian members of Knesset.
And while you're at it, compare the number of people in Iran willing to put their personal safety on the line by going into the streets unarmed and peaceful to protest injustice with the number of Saudis or Egyptians or Jordanians...or Israelis or Americans willing to protest the faults in those countries.