Tehran to Cairo: A 32-year Journey

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A documentary discussing similarities between Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 to Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: On the 11th of February 2011, after nearly three weeks of intense protests, the thirty year reign of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was brought to an end. For many, the Egyptian Revolution which began on January 25th, 2011, brought back memories of Ayatollah Khomeini, who predicted the fate of Hosni Mubarak and his regime three decades earlier. In many ways the events of the revolution in Egypt echoed Ayatollah Khomeini’s predictions word for word. It is plain to see that the recent uprising and revolutions in the Arab world draw their inspiration from the Islamic Revolution of Iran. For many experts, these events are part of an “Islamic Spring” – a process that began with Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. The revolutions of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and other countries are all distinctly Islamic in tone.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dilip Hiro, Political Writer, Journalist, Historian: “Israeli committed, high place committee said in all of these things we have done we neglected one factor, which is the Egyptian public. And now we’re finding all Egyptian public exist & then they’re speaking up. Are’nt this all supposed to be democracy? -We all human rights, democracy.”

Narration: News outlets and media all over the world showed images of hundreds of thousands of protesters praying in Tahrir square every day.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Mark J. Gasiorowski, Louisiana State University: “I mean as much as the Iranian revolution first awakened this new force, that’s been a major problem. It’s almost quaint now to think about the problems of the United States had with nationalists like Naser or Mossadegh or with the few leftists that ever emerged in the Middle East, the left was never a very important force. Those were minor problems back in the 50s and 60s, compared with what we’ve had over the past 30 years with political Islam. And it certainly hasn’t gone away; it remains a major, major problem. It’s the central focus of U.S. Foreign policy now, is dealing with political Islam. We still haven’t figured out how. Even the Obama people, all they’re doing is trying to use military force. They’re not getting to the core of the problem between the U.S. and political Islam. This was all awakened by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978-79, and it’s going to be around for a long time I think.”

Narration: Tens of thousands of women in full Islamic dress were reminders of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and a strong rebuke to secular governments that had attempted to subdue Islamic movements for decades. Perhaps it’s a happy irony for the people of Egypt that their revolution took place on the anniversary of the victory of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Looking back on the reign of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muhammad Reza Shah of Iran, one immediately sees similarities. The last Shah of Iran assumed power when his unpopular predecessor – his father, Reza Shah – was deposed by foreign powers during the Second World War. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled for 37 years – a rule founded on the continuous and unwavering support of Western powers. Backed by the West, and particularly the United States, the Shah could do nothing but repeatedly capitulate to their desires and serve their interests for the entire duration of his reign.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: Hosni Mubarak too came to power in Egypt after an unpopular leader was assassinated and killed due to pro-West and pro-Israeli policies. Since Mubarak himself was part of the unpopular establishment, the only way to consolidate power was to further submit to the will of the United States and its allies.The close relation between these two dictators, their ties to the West, and their support for Israel showed them to be puppet rulers and aroused wide-spread contempt among their people. Both Mubarak and the Shah had very prolonged reigns over countries despite their ever increasing unpopularity. The Shah ruled for 37 years in Iran while Mubarak ruled for three decades. Both regimes maintained their rule through brutal tactics of suppression, backed by feared intelligence services and security forces that were armed and equipped by the West -- especially the United States of America. Widespread censorship, banned opposition parties, and the ongoing arrests of dissidents marked the long years of their rule.

SOUNDBITE [English], Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Disarmament Programme IISS: “The United States like any country has multiple priorities; democracy is one of them, but stability is also very important to America’s own national security. We’ve seen cases where an autocratic government was overthrown by supposedly democratic forces that the end result for regional and global security turned out for the worst. Iran’s 1979 revolution is one such case. The current situation in Egypt could go either way. You know, it’s not self evident that a revolution will result in a more secure region. So, I don’t think it’s so unusual that United States would support autocrats who are helping to keep peace & security in the region. While the United States supports them its encouraging reforms and not always successful in the speed of those reforms, but it’s not an issue that is totally swept under the table.

Narration: Just like the Shah, Mubarak spent the last decade of his rule grooming his son to succeed him. These, and many other similarities, show the close relationship between the governments of Mubarak and the Shah. But no factor is more relevant to the revolutions in both Iran and Egypt as the anti-Islamic nature of the rulers and their regimes. Both the Shah and Mubarak were unpopular leaders. And their unpopularity increased as time went on. Opposition came from many quarters: the left, liberals, intellectuals, student groups and other factions. But none of these secular factions ever posed a serious threat to their regimes.

SOUNDBITE [English], John Esposito, Professor of Islamic Studies:For decades before the Iranian revolution in Egypt, in Sudan, in Libya, in Pakistan, Islam was being appealed to by governments and by opposition. The West didn’t see that. Even people in our embassies were not monitoring that. So they were not only blindsided that by Iran, but all of a sudden now, clearing up their lens and seeing what was already going on and then the assassinations of Sadat (you know) etc. and the what comes after that, much of what came after, Iran’s influence in Lebanon (you know) that just developed almost a domino effect, and domino fear.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: Only Islamic movements had the strength to unite the masses against their hated dictators. Both the Shah and Mubarak had very clear understandings of the dangers they faced from Islamic movements. Since their fall, the United States as well as other Western powers have intensified their efforts to prevent Islamic movements from gaining momentum. The Shah openly declared war on Islam and Iran’s religious establishment in 1963 when he imposed a set of American-inspired reforms which he referred to as the “White Revolution”. Ayatollah Khomeini spoke out bluntly against this move and was immediately arrested. Later, in 1964, by the direct order of the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini was sent into an exile that would last nearly 15 years. The Shah’s rule was marked by a disregard for Islamic values in favour of westernization -- a policy which only compounded his unpopularity. During this era, it was in the mosques and at religious gatherings, where those who were dissatisfied with the regime would gather. The clergy became the main source of guidance for the people, as well as the most outspoken individuals who challenged the dictatorial rule of the king. This is a theme that is universal to all Islamic societies. Because of Islam’s inherent stance against corruption and oppression, it quickly becomes society’s safe haven against autocratic regimes such as those of the Shah and Mubarak. Ultimately, it was the Islamic movement in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini that was able to bring different factions together to unite against the Shah and overthrow the Iranian monarchy. The Egyptian Revolution and its Islamic roots are no exception to this pattern. From the outset, Mubarak tried to stifle and subdue Egypt’s Islamic movements – a process that was begun by his predecessor. The hammer of repression fell hardest on the most important and popular of Egypt’s Islamic groups – the Muslim Brotherhood. As in Iran, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed during the Mubarak era.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dilip Hiro, Political Writer, Journalist, Historian: “And then they said you know, ha so Mubarak said yes, you want democracy? –yes, sure, so, 2005 election he allowed Muslim Brotherhood to contest 1/3 of the seats. And Muslim Brotherhood fellows are not fools; they deliberately did not contest more than 50%. They only contested 140, there are 444 seats, they contested 150, of course as independents. Nobody says ok, and even though Mubarak you know did this & that, they won 60% of the seats they contested, 60%!”

Narration: Now anytime they found anything on Muslim Brotherhood, they will tell you yes, in 2005 they contested they won all toll 88 seats, which is 20%. Therefore (this this logic), therefore we say any free election, next time maybe win 25% in q. ed. But wait a minute, they won this percent how many do they contest? Nobody can do that. It’s in my ‘Dictionary of the Middle East’ but how many people got through. I am serious. This was a game, so when Muslim Brotherhood got 88 seats, Mubarak said to Candela Rice & Bush, George Bush: you want that? You want me to open up all of the seats to them? –that’s what you get! Despite massive crackdowns and a ban on their official candidacy, figures linked to the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections. This served as a reminder that Islamic movements are the main opposition to autocratic rulers throughout the region. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the Brotherhood remained Egypt’s most popular opposition group, just as Islamic institutions had been the greatest centres of opposition to the Shah. Without the challenge posed by the Islamic movements in Egypt and Iran, their western-backed rulers would not have faced serious threats to their rule. Through the media, the west continues to play down the importance of Islam in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. However, with Islamic parties dominating the post-revolution elections, the West, and particularly the United States have had to admit their growing concern about the Islamic nature of Egypt’s social movements. Key to undermining the legitimacy of both Mubarak and the Shah in the eyes of their people and the rest of the Muslim World were their close ties to Israel. The Shah of Iran was the first Muslim leader in the world to recognize the Jewish state. In 1973 he opted not to support the oil embargo aimed to counter US support of Israel in the Yum Kippur War. The Shah’s unwavering support for Israel caused immense unpopularity among his people and played a key role in the uprising that led to his overthrow. While the British and Americans directly intervened against Iran’s interests on Iran’s interest in repeated occasions, it was the Shah’s close relations with Israel that sealed his fate. Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel – a decision that cost Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Al-Sadat his life. But despite the danger, Mubarak, like the Shah, maintained friendly relations with Israel – a policy chosen to appease the West and maintain U.S. support for his rule.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Dilip Hiro, Political Writer, Journalist, Historian: “Who is going to take care of Omar Suleiman? Who was Omar Suleiman, he was biting up the.. He was doing the winderson for the CIA & the USA. See, He you have to raise, you read the press Daily Telegraph. They have wiki leeks that everyday Omar Suleiman’s office, hot-line to the Ministry of Defence in Israel, in Tel Aviv. Every day they were talking to each other.. And Israel, you have wiki leeks, if you pick up a daily telegraph today; you see that wiki leeks & Israel says if we have an option. After Mubarak he because, his speech is slow & he’s dying of cancer bla bla bla.. Who would you like to have? Omar Suleiman! He’s our baby, he’s constantly talking to the Israelis. And you have more, because when Egypt was unable to stop the supply of weapons & the goods into Gaza, to the Tunnels. & Egypt says we’re trying our best but (you know) we can’t really help the whole thing, so why don’t you IDF Israeli Defence Force, you can come in & stop this thing. We don’t mind, we will just close our eyes. So that’s what I’m saying.”

Narration: Most recently, Mubarak’s cooperation with Israel in maintaining the Gaza blockade earned him the animosity not only of Egyptians but Muslims from all over the world. Ignoring Islamic sentiments came at a high price for both the Shah and Hosni Mubarak. Under Mubarak, Egypt received vast sums in US-military aid. The only country to receive more was Israel.

SOUNDBITE [English], Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Disarmament Programme IISS: “A nation is not just composed of the top leadership; it’s the people of the nation. The United States would like to be loved by the people on the street. But (you know) it’s often the case that people who feel powerless, who have no say in their own government would look with some dislike to the world’s superpower. I don’t think the America is going to easily be loved by people in the street. But (you know, I mean) look around here in Europe, there’s a lot of anti-American-ism on the campuses of Europe. It’s a natural inclination for people to have some dislike of the most powerful country.”

Narration: Most of this aid was used to purchase the arms that made Mubarak’s forces one of the best equipped in the region. Human rights abuses reported by numerous international agencies did not deter the United States, Israel, and other Western powers from staunchly supporting Mubarak throughout his rule.

SOUNDBITE [English], Jimmy Carter, Former President of US: “Iran because of the great leadership of the Shah is an Island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Narration: Iran’s shah too received vital political, economic and military support from the west, especially the United States. At its height, the US military presence in Iran numbered over forty-thousand personnel. Just months before his overthrow, US President Jimmy Carter saluted the Shah on a visit to the United States. Carter vowed to support him even as the revolution peaked. But not even the immense support of foreign powers could save Mubarak and the Shah from popular uprisings. Ultimately, the military might of both dictators – funded and supplied by the West – was overcome by the will of the people. While there are similarities, there is one key difference between the revolutions of Iran and Egypt – a difference which may prove crucial to the future of the Egyptian revolution. In Iran, the existence of a charismatic, religious and national leader served to bring together opposition elements and neutralize deviations from the revolutionary path. The leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini proved to be the ultimate determining factor both before and after the Islamic Revolution. It was through his foresight that the Iranian revolution maintained its course and overcame adversities such as foreign intervention and military interference. However, in Egypt, no such figure exists. The lack of a charismatic leader has become even more apparent as Egypt’s military has refused to fulfil its promises and obligations to the people. Instead, the army maintains much of the power and privilege that it held under Mubarak.

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Dilip Hiro, Political Writer, Journalist, Historian:“Two things count in Egypt; go back to Iran. In Iran ultimately what counts? The army! Ultimately.. Ok? and then the people’s power. The point about the real revolution in Iran, because of the Khomeini’s leadership, because of continuous thing & because of martyrdom & because of the killing of the people, army collapsed. Adesh, imperial guards tried to do a coup, Shah left on 16th of January, 9th of February imperial guards had put out a plan for a coup & imperial guards had a coup, tried to have a coup 9th of February & then they were crushed you see. That means on the next day, 10th, 11th February, there was not a single soldier in Tehran and that is revolution.”

Narration: If you look at the Bolshevik revolution, same thing because they were fighting a war, & soldiers (were) defected & then Communism, Bolshevism came bla bla bla. No such thing is happening in Egypt. It’s not the way it happened so ultimately the regime is still intact, you see. And so what is Barak Obama saying? I don’t want to be like Jimmy Carter, at the same time I want some change. So that change can only be regime change, & that regime change is not going to change the structure; it’s not going to change the economic elite which is sucking the blood of the real people. So obviously going to change that, so but at the same time but if you allow a free election Muslim Brotherhood will be number one.

So all you read the thin prints: [Oh, American embassy is scrambling; where are Muslim Brotherhood? Are they hiding? Somewhere, where are their phone number, mobile.. Please get us.. Who wants to talk to us?] Yes, you see? Because so far the rule was Mubarak said you’re dealing with me. You want to talk to them? They won’t talk to you, they are out.It was the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini that enabled Iran to break free of the old establishment – a challenge which still faces the revolutionaries of Egypt. And of course, America will manipulate because ultimately they set us go & if Egypt goes & therefore American policy will be and that could not happen, could not happen in Iran because Iran the whole system was crushed. This would happen in, they will try to make it happen in Egypt slowly slowly, moderate these guys, moderate. Ok, yes you contest elections because right now the constitution says richest best parties are not allowed. So they have to manipulate rishest best party can contest. So they & this thing, they will come in & try to emasculate their fangs. Fangs of.. Muslim Brotherhood are really quite moderate, you know. & that’s the way to try. because if Egypt goes, the whole Middle East goes. With the world watching in anticipation, the West along with Israel has already begun to subvert the will of Egyptian people. Egypt’s revolutionaries will have to stay their course in order to fulfil their people’s demands.


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