As Arab publics increasingly look to their own governments to represent their interests, Iran's ability to leverage regional discontent to influence the Arab street will continue to wane. Moreover, emerging political actors vying for influence and votes in an increasingly populist landscape, including both secular parties and Sunni Arab Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, will be keen to brandish their Arab nationalist credentials and will be reluctant to forge close associations with Tehran. Within hours of Mubarak's fall, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman was already taking pains to emphasize that "Egypt is not Iran. Egypt can build its own model of democracy according to its culture and Islamic preference."
The Iranian regime's brutal response to its own 2009 protest movement puts further limits on its influence over the Arab Spring. The regime's refusal to respect universal rights, while claiming to back democratic movements across the Middle East, is irrefutable evidence of hypocrisy. And Iran's continued support for the Syrian regime's bloody tactics -- at the very moment that Assad faces growing pressure from fellow Arab states and Turkey to end the violence and step aside -- only magnifies this double standard.
Classic balance of power dynamics have also triggered extensive pushback from Tehran's regional rivals. Iran's nuclear ambitions, combined with widespread concerns of Iranian-backed subversion, have motivated unprecedented arms purchases and security cooperation among the Arab Gulf states. Exaggerated perceptions of Iranian meddling also produced the ill-advised Saudi intervention into Bahrain last March. In the face of perceived Iranian threats, Saudi Arabia and its allies are likely to continue to circle the wagons.
Lastly, as the prospects of Assad's political survival in Syria continue to dim, so do Iran's hopes for regional supremacy. For years, Iran's close alliance with Syria has provided it with a platform to exert influence in the Arab world, and a base from which to funnel support to militant Lebanese and Palestinian organizations threatening Israel. But with the pro-democracy movement in Syria persisting in the face of severe repression and Assad's regime facing international estrangement, Iran's most critical alliance is increasingly tenuous.
If Assad falls, Iran may attempt to compensate by doubling down in Iraq. But the susceptibility of Iraq's Shiite-led government to Iranian hegemony is widely exaggerated and Iraq cannot replace Syria as a gateway to the Levant. Iraqi nationalism is profound and local distrust of Iran, a country Iraq waged the bloodiest war of the late twentieth century against, runs deep. Iraq also desires a long-term partnership with the United States and improved relations with its Arab neighbors -- goals that are incompatible with Iranian domination.
One year after the Egyptian revolution began, Khamenei's hopes -- and Western analysts' fears -- have not materialized, and are not likely to. Although it has been fashionable to describe Iran's growing power in the Middle East, actual events suggest the opposite. Iran's economy is reeling under sanctions, and the regime's nuclear activities and saber-rattling increasingly mark it as a pariah state. And as the Arab Spring marches on, Iran will find itself falling further behind.