ALISON STEWART, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen is away this week. I'm Alison Stewart.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called today on the United States and Britain to stop what he called interfering with his country's internal affairs. His statement came the day after at least 10 people were killed and others were injured in Tehran as police forces cracked down on protesters. Demonstrators have been taking to the streets all week to oppose Mr. Ahmadinejad's recent reelection.
To discuss what's happening in Iran, we're joined from New York by Gary Sick. He served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, and he's now a senior research scholar at Columbia University. Good morning, Mr. Sick.
Mr. GARY SICK (Senior Research Scholar, Columbia University): Good morning.
STEWART: We're also joined by Rami Khouri, editor-at-large at The Daily Star, a newspaper in Beirut. He's on the phone from Amman, Jordan. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Khouri.
Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, The Daily Star): My pleasure. Thanks.
STEWART: I'd like to start with you. What's been the reaction to the Iranian protests in the Arab world?
Mr. KHOURI: The reaction has been very much the same as the reaction to Iran itself in the last 30 years in the Arab world. Iran has been extremely divisive in the region. A lot of ordinary people cheered the Iranian revolution when it happened 30 years ago. They saw it as the overthrow of a despotic regime supported by the U.S. and the west. So, a lot of ordinary people liked it, but most of the governments in the region didn't like it because they saw their own vulnerability in that kind of popular overthrow.
And ever since, Iran has been very divisive in the region - some people like it, some people don't. And you're seeing exactly the same reaction today. Most people have been kind of quiet in the region. They're not talking a lot about the details, but those who like Iran, who like the Islamic regime, don't like what's going on. But a lot of people are happy, in a way, to see an autocratic regime being challenged by a popular revolt of some extent, though, we don't know the full extent of that revolt. So, it's very mixed.
STEWART: Mr. Sick, yesterday President Obama issued another statement - a stronger one. He called for the Iranian government to stop, quote, "all violent and unjust actions against its own people." However, some of his critics say he has not gone far enough. What do you think of the administration's response so far?
Mr. SICK: I think the administration has done exactly what it should do. The one thing that really is critical to avoid in a case like this is being perceived as taking sides, and certainly, any suggestion that the United States is going to intervene in any way.
The Iranian government is trying very hard, as the mention of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement suggests - trying to suggest - that all of this problem in the streets of Tehran is the fault of the United States, Britain and all the other outsiders. Of course that's absurd, but the fact is you don't want to give people an excuse to believe that they're fighting against foreigners. This is a domestic Iranian issue, and it should be treated that way and it should be recognized that way from the outside.
STEWART: Mr. Khouri, protesters are demanding a new presidential election, but is this really about the actual men running for president or was the election a trigger for something larger?
Mr. KHOURI: Well, it's both, in a way, but I think it's really a trigger about something larger. The election was the issue that brought people out into the streets and, more importantly, brought some of the people in the elite in the leadership of the Islamic republic, some of the people who are running the country, including the candidate Mousavi and others, brought them out to challenge the established way of doing things.
So you had a very powerful combination of ordinary people all across the country, as well as members of the - virtually the inner circle of the elite -people who've been in important positions for the last 20, 30 years. They protested the rigging of the election as they saw it, but what really they're protesting is a much larger issue, which is ordinary people being treated by the government with great disdain.
And people put up with that for a long time, but after a while, any country in the world, whether it was Iran of the Shah, or the Iran of the Islamic republic of Khamenei, or the Philippines of the Marcos or the Ukraine, this happens all over the world. So, what you're seeing is a very common reaction by masses of ordinary people who don't want to be abused and treated like fools by their own government. And they do this with great risk because the government is powerful, it is an enormous force and it will not hesitate to use that force, as we have seen.
STEWART: Mr. Sick, you've tackled this question on your blog and I'd like to pose it to you now: Are we witnessing another Iranian revolution?
Mr. SICK: When you watch events like this, you sometimes feel as if you're standing on the edge of a glacier and you can feel the ice cracking under your feet. In this case, it has gone beyond the question about the election and the fraudulent aspect of it. It has moved on to something much bigger.
And Mr. Mousavi, today, put out a statement in which he really describes a revolution gone wrong. He says that the revolution has quit listening to the voice of the people and as he said, is forcing an unwanted government on the nation. And he describes the task to him and his movement to fix that. That is truly revolutionary.
STEWART: Gary Sick is a senior research scholar at Columbia University and a former member of the National Security Council. Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, and director of Issam Fares, public policy institute in Beirut.
To follow a live Twitter feed about Iran's election aftermath, and to see a slide show of the activist and politicians who've been arrested, go to our blog, npr.org/soapbox.
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