Should the Iranian government be worried about the government overthrow in Kyrgyzstan?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

That didn't take long. The anti-government protests in Kyrgyzstan only took slightly over a day to overthrow the government and the president has fled the country. And less than a year after the last election with its confident "Bakiyev of course" campaign. Here's a quick video from Russia Today with some background.

Doing a search on Twitter now for #Iranelection + Kyrgyzstan shows that many are already drawing parallels between Kyrgyzstan and Iran, and that Kyrgyzstan is "showing Iran how it's done" in overthrowing a repressive government. So is drawing parallels warranted? Here are some arguments for both sides.

The Iranian government doesn't need to be worried about Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan isn't located next to Iran (you have to cross two other countries in order to get there and the total distance between the two capitals is greater than 2000 km), and the two governments were never particularly close; Kyrgyzstan is next to China, is not an energy producer, and its main geopolitical value to its larger neighbors lies in being a host to bases from the US and Russia. Also, Kyrgyzstan speaks Kyrgyz, a Turkic language. Iran has much closer ties with Tajikistan, a country that speaks Persian (though written in the Cyrillic script), so a government overthrow in Tajikistan would have been a much bigger deal.

View Tehran to Bishkek in a larger map

The Iranian government does need to be worried about Kyrgyzstan: In spite of the above, the idea of a new government in a nearby country formed by protests more than half a year after a disputed election in the summer of 2009 does seem eerily similar, and if a new government is quickly set up that the rest of the world deems legitimate, Iran would effectively either have to deal with a government set up in more or less the same way many in its own opposition wanted to see carried out, or take a stand on its own that such governments are not to be recognized and be the odd man out. It's safe to say that given the option of the status quo until yesterday and a new government in Kyrgyzstan, the Iranian government would prefer the former. The safest route for the Iranian government would probably be the bland course - issue a few statements about being concerned about violence, then establish official relations with the new country but without any high-key statements, say that it's a Kyrgyz internal issue and Iran doesn't get involved with the internal affairs of other countries if questioned.

The Iranian government has already issued a statement which seems to be along these lines. Note though that apparently the interior minister has not been killed.

What will also be important will be how free and democratic the new government in Kyrgyzstan happens to be. If political freedom there is improved and Kyrgyzstan clearly looks better off after the previous government's overthrow then it will continue to be an example of dictatorship to democracy (a book that has been translated into Persian and is often read by opposition supporters) over the coming years; if not, then it will serve merely as an example that the new boss is often the same as the old one.

It will be interesting to see what Mohsen Sazegara says about the situation over the next few days in his daily video updates, and I'll keep an eye on anything that deserves to be mentioned there.

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