THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TEHRAN— Iran's opposition leader expressed hope Saturday that protests engulfing Egypt can bring the kind of change that has so far evaded his own country.
Mir Hossein Mousavi compared the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen with the protest movement that followed the 2009 disputed presidential election in Iran.
Mousavi, who claims to have been the real victor in the vote, said Iran's protest movement was the starting point but all aimed at ending the "oppression of the rulers."
The wave of protests that erupted after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the biggest challenge faced by Iran's clerical leadership since it came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support of Mousavi, and some powerful clerics sided with the opposition.
But a heavy military crackdown suppressed the protests, and many in the opposition — from midlevel political figures to street activists, journalists and human rights workers — were arrested. The opposition has not been able to hold a major protest since December 2009.
Mousavi said he hoped protesters in Egypt and Yemen would succeed in bringing change to their country amid a wave of Arab unrest that was unleashed when Tunisians succeeded in driving their authoritarian president from the country earlier this month.
"Our nation respects and salutes the huge revolution by the brave Tunisian people and the rightful uprising of the Egyptian and Yemeni people," Mousavi said in a comment posted Saturday on his website kaleme.com. "We demand that God bestow on them victory in their truthful struggle."
Mousavi said Iranians peacefully took to the streets to demand "where is my vote?" and now Egyptians chant "the nation wants the ouster of the regime."
In a twist, Iran's hard-line rulers also have tried to take credit for the uprisings, calling them a replay of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. shah and brought hardline clerics to power.
"An Islamic Middle East is taking shape," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said in his Friday prayer sermon. "A new Middle East is emerging based on Islam ... based on religious democracy."
He said chants of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," from protesters signal a new Middle East based on Islamic values, not U.S. goals, is emerging.
Iran and Egypt broke diplomatic relations in 1979 after Tehran condemned Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for signing the Camp David peace treaty with Israel. In the late 1980s, they resumed contact but at a low level. They now have interest sections, not embassies, in each other's capitals.