It is hard not to see the parallels between Egypt and Iran and draw the conclusion that history is repeating itself. These parallels are not lines in sand: both Iran and Egypt are ancient countries with a proud past, both established a patron-client relationship with the United States (stability in exchange for sale of arms), and consequently both became the pillars of US foreign policy in the region.
The fact that they are mired in history, some several millennia past their zenith of power and prestige may tell us more about the collective psyche of the region than about the similarities between Mubarak and the Shah.
The events in Egypt remind us that change is slow to occur in the Middle East, and it cannot be forced, hastened or honed. While there is still much speculation about the origins of the Iranian revolution and the merits of the US invasion of Iraq, the uprisings in Egypt seem to have evolved organically and with a sense of resolve.
This was not the case in Iran where Khomeini flew in from Paris and appeared on the tarmac in Tehran’s airport, to the astonishment of most Iranians who had never heard of him. The “fog” of revolution pitted Iranian against Iranian and led to mass looting and executions. The anti-Shah demonstrators who were gasping for change they couldn’t have were choked by a fanatic leader they didn’t want.
The scenario is different in Egypt as each Egyptian has become a countryman first and a rioter second. To this end the sense of ownership and pride has extended beyond the front doors of their homes and on to public spheres. As we have seen until today crime and looting have been minimal and the army is reciprocating the sense of respect.
Whatever the outcome of these protests, (and I hope it will be friendly to Israel) it seems to be Egyptians’ own making. Egypt will remain secular. These people have real problems and Iran has showed that religion is no longer a salvation.
Both the Shah and Mubarak had the privilege of leading two storied countries to many great chapters. Are their stories similar? Yes and No. Perhaps a better question to ask is to what extent did Carter’s disastrous foreign policy proclivities undermine the hapless Shah; and how effective has Obama’s quiet diplomacy been in fomenting change in the Middle East.