Parallel Betrayals: Iranian Revolution and Arab Spring
Many are the lessons to be learned between the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the current revolutions of the Arab world.
Consider the issue of the hijab, the female “veil”—the proliferation of which, according to one former Islamist and associate of al-Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri, is associated with a Muslim society’s downward spiral into oppression and terror.
Prior to Egypt’s presidential elections, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, assured the nation’s liberals and secularists that, as president, he would certainly not enforce the hijab: “Many people are speaking nonsense, saying that I will impose the hijab against the will of the people; no one is going to force anyone to wear a specific uniform.”
These are famous words, spoken almost verbatim some 33 years earlier, in Iran, at the time of the 1979 revolution. In fact, during the early days of the revolution, Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani, a popular mullah, to reassure the secularists who participated in the overthrow of the Shah that an Islamic government would certainly not interfere with their freedoms, declared in the March 11, 1979 edition of Iran’s newspaper, Ettela’at, that “The hijab will not be a matter of coercion.”
The rest is history. Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic, the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed, female government workers were made to wear the hijab, women were barred from becoming judges, sex-segregation laws were promulgated, the marriage age for girls was dropped to 13, and married women were barred from attending regular schools. Today, Iranian women are regularly beaten if they are not dressed in appropriate hijab.
The parallels between Iran and Egypt do not end there. While today it is standard to think of the 1979 Iranian revolution as a purely Islamic affair, in fact, many of the revolutionaries were secular, liberal, Marxist, non-Muslim, etc. The one goal that glued them altogether was the desire to overthrow the autocratic Shah. Many of these Iranians did not want an Islamic government, certainly not a theocracy. And indeed, not just the Ayatollah Taleghani, but the Ayatollah Khomeini himself played down Sharia’s draconian role to mobilize all these divergent segments of society—until he was fully entrenched in power, that is.
In short, the Iranian Revolution began as a heterodox affair, with different revolutionary factions and different ideological agendas, but it ended with the rise of a totalitarian Islamic republic.
Sound familiar? This is precisely what is happening today in Egypt, where the one unifying goal of the revolution was the overthrow of the Mubarak regime; where many Egyptians are secularist, liberal, Christian, etc., and certainly do not want an Islamic government; and where the Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are busy reassuring everyone that all their freedoms will be preserved.
Based on the Iranian model and the ongoing “Arab Spring,” two lessons emerge as to how Islamists manage to consolidate power: 1) through outright lies and false promises, justified through Islamic doctrines like taqiyya and tawriya; and 2) through gradual implementation. This is how the mullahs achieved power in Iran, and this is how the Muslim Brotherhood—which is on record saying that its gradual, long-term goal is “mastership of the world“—is working to achieve power in Egypt, seen as the first domino on the road to caliphate.
Speaking of gradualism, here is a telling anecdote from Egypt: back in 1953, when the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader asked President Gamel Abdel Nasser to enforce the hijab on women—in 1953 hardly any Egyptian women wore it—his suggestion was met with laughter and ridicule. Half a century later, the hijab is commonplace in Egypt.
Thus history prepares to repeat itself, even as the world prepares to act surprised—all in accord with that age-old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” One may forgive those Iranians and others who fell for the lies of the Islamists during the 1979 revolution: there were no similar large scale precedents to learn from, certainly not from the modern era; the world was just beginning to confront political Islam.
Today, however, as Islamists exploit democracy to empower Sharia—and after more than three decades’ worth of Islamist lies, betrayals, and broken promises, all justified by Islamic doctrines—for anyone to still take them at their word, well, that is a big “shame on you.”
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.