“The uprising of the Arab nations is an Islamic movement and the west is trying to downplay the Islamic content of these protests,” Iranian hardline cleric told worshippers at Tehran’s Friday Mass Prayers.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said: “31 years after the victory of the Islamic republic, we are faced with the obvious fact that these movements are the after shocks of the Islamic Revolution.”

“The fate of those who challenge religion is destruction;” he added.

Ahmad Khatami told worshippers that the former Tunisian president, Ben Ali had forbidden Friday Mass Prayers and given rise to torture in the prisons. “These are exactly the events that took place at the time of the Shah,” the Iranian hardliner said refering to the last Iranian monarch who was ousted in 1979 before the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran.

“They want to highlight the labour, liberal and democratic issues but the most important issue which is the religious streak of these protests are being denied,” Kahtami insisted.

He added: “To all those who refuse to acknowledge the truth, I say the Islamic Middle East orbiting around Islam, religion and religious democracy is taking shape.”

In recent weeks, widespread protests have rocked several Arab nations starting with Tunisia where President Zeinalabdine Ben Ali was toppled from power. Protests in Egypt, Algeria and Yemen have followed in the footsteps of Tunisians calling for cange in the political make up of their respective countries.

Islamic Republic establishment has been quick in taking ownership of these movements and insisting the protests are religious in nature.