Why Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979

Alarms have been raised by those observing the popular uprising in Egypt that, while it is not itself a Muslim fundamentalist movement, the Muslim fundamentalists could take it over as it unfolds. The best-positioned group to do so is the Muslim Brotherhood. Some are even conflating the peaceful Brotherhood with radical groups such as al-Qaeda. I showed in my recent book, Engaging the Muslim World, that the Muslim Brotherhood has since the 1970s opposed the radical movements. In any case, the analogy many of these alarmists are making, explicitly or implicitly, is to Iran in 1978-79, which saw similar scenes of massive crowds in the street, demanding the departure of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, their king.

Misagh Parsa argued that the revolution of 1978-79 was made by several different social groups, each for its own reasons. The revolution was fought against the monarchy, which presided over an oil-exporting economy that had gone into overdrive because of the big fourfold run-up of prices in the 1970s. Many felt that they were not sharing in that prosperity, or were inconvenienced by the Shah’s authoritarian government.

1. THE BAZAAR: The bazaar is a way of referring to the old business and artisan classes who congregated in covered bazaars and around mosques and courts in the older part of Iranian cities. Everyone from tinsmiths, to moneylenders, to carpet import-export merchants is encompassed by the phrase. The bazaar came to be in significant competition with the new business classes (importers of tin pans were putting the tinsmiths out of business, and modern banking was making inroads against the moneylenders). The bazaar had many links with the ayatollahs in mosques and seminaries, including via intermarriage. The Shah despised the bazaar as a bastion of feudal backwardness, and imposed onerous taxes and fines on it, in addition to casually destroying entire bazaars, as at Mashhad. THE BAZAAR FAVORED THE CLERGY AND BANKROLLED THE REVOLUTION.

2. WHITE AND BLUE COLLAR WORKERS: Industrial and oil workers struck over their wages and labor conditions. School teachers and white collar professionals (nurses, physicians, etc.) protested the lack of democracy.

3. SECULAR PARTIES: The old National Front of the early 1950s movement for oil nationalization was weak and aging but still significant. The Communist Party was much less important than in the 1950s but still had some organizational ability. Left-leaning youth radicals, such as the Fedayan-i Khalq (which leaned mildly Maoist) had begun guerrilla actions against the regime. There were also secular intellectuals in what was called the Writer’s Movement.

4. RELIGIOUS FORCES: The religious forces included not only the clergy and mosque networks of dissidents such as Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (in exile in Najaf, Iraq and then Paris), but also religious party-militias such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK: Fighters for the People). In Shiite Islam, a doctrine had grown up that laypersons owe implicit obedience to the clergy when the latter rule on the practice of religious law. Ayatollahs have a place of honor not common for Sunni clergy.

Parsa argues, I think correctly, that the religious forces were initially only one of the important social groups that made the revolution, but of course they ultimately hijacked it and repressed the other three. Note that although the rural population was the majority in Iran at that time, it was little involved in the revolution, though it was very well represented in the subsequent revolutionary parliament and so benefited from new rounds of road, school and other building in the 1980 and 1990s.

Egypt is, unlike Iran, not primarily an oil state. Its sources of revenue are tourism, Suez Canal tolls, manufactured and agricultural exports, and strategic rent (the $1.5 bn. or so in aid from the US comes under this heading). Egypt depends on the rest of the world for grain imports. Were it to adopt a radical and defiant ideology like that of Iran, all its major sources of income would suddenly evaporate, and it might have trouble even just getting enough imported food. Moreover, the social forces making the revolution in Egypt have a significantly different profile and different dynamics than in Iran. Let us just go through the same list.

1. THE BAZAAR: To the extent that there is a bazaar (the Arabic would be suq) in Egypt, it is by now very heavily dependent on the tourist trade. Coptic Christians are well represented in it. The suq therefore tends to oppose social policies that would scare away Western tourists. The suq will do very badly this year because of the turmoil. One merchant in Khan al-Khalili once told me that the bad years for his business had been 1952, 1956, 1967, 1973– the years of the revolution and then the Arab-Israeli wars that would have been celebrated by nationalists but which he regretted.. Because few tourists came those years. That the Egyptian Market would bankroll Egyptian fundamentalists to establish an oppressive theocracy that would permanently scare away German holiday-makers is highly unlikely.

Khan al-Khalili

Khan al-Khalili

2. WHITE AND BLUE COLLAR WORKERS: These groups are among the primary instigators of the Egyptian uprising. The April 6 group of young labor activists first came to prominence when they supported strikes by textile factory workers in Mahalla al-Kubra and elsewhere for improved wages and work conditions. There have been more than 3,000 labor actions by Egyptian workers since 2004. The pro-labor youth activists have been among the major leaders of the uprising in the past week, and had pioneered the use of Facebook and Twitter for such purposes.

Egyptian factory workers

Egyptian Factory Workers

3. SECULAR FORCES. When I say ‘secular’ with regard to Egypt, I do not mean that these groups are made up of atheists and agnostics. Their members may go to mosque and pray and be personally pious. But such people can nevertheless vote for parties that are not primarily organized around religion. These include the New Wafd Party, a revival of the old liberal party that dominated Egypt 1922-1952 during its “liberal” period of parliamentary elections and prime ministers. The Wafd had originally represented the interests of great landlords and budding bankers and industrialists, though its original role in fighting for independence from Britain also gave it popular support. It reemerged when Egypt began turning away from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s socialism and it again championed private property rights. It attracted the allegiance of many Copts, as well as middle class Muslims. Although it has suffered divisions and declining popularity in recent elections, in a situation of free and fair elections it could regain some popularity. Then there is the Tomorrow (al-Ghad) party of Ayman Nur, who won 8% of the vote in the 2005 presidential election. And there is the Kefaya! (Enough!) movement. All three favor human rights and parliamentary democracy. There are also many secular figures in the literary establishment and in the film world (such as comic Adil Imam). And, of course, there is the ruling National Democratic Party, which has a generally secular bias and dislikes Muslim fundamentalism. Whether it can overcome its association with Hosni Mubarak and continue to contest elections credibly remains to be seen. It is now by far the dominant party in parliament, though nobody thinks the elections were free and fair.

Ayman Nur

Ayman Nur

4. THE RELIGIOUS FORCES: Unlike in Iran, there are relatively few prominent dissident clergy. “Televangelist” Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in exile in Qatar, should be counted among them. The Egyptian state had for the most part nationalized mosques and controlled the clerical corps. Few Egyptian clergyman command the respect or obedience of the laity to the extent that Khomeini did in Iran. The major religious party is the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928. Although it developed a terrorist wing in the 1940s, it faced severe crackdowns in the 1950s and 1960s, and lost that capacity. Although the radical thinker Sayyid Qutb came out of their movement, the MB leadership disowned him in the late 1960s and even refuted his radical doctrines (such as declaring other Muslims with whom he disagreed to be ‘non-Muslims’) as “un-Sunni.” By the 1970s the Brotherhood’s leaders were willing to make their peace with the government of Anwar El Sadat. He let them operate if they agreed not to resort to violence and not to try to overthrow the government. In the 1990s, the Brotherhood came to counter the radical movements, such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and so had a tacit partnership with the state. Egypt does not allow parties to be organized on the basis of religion, but even so Muslim Brother candidates have done well in some parliamentary elections (especially 2006), running under the rubric of other parties.

So to recapitulate. The white collar and labor activists are far more central to the organization of the Egyptian protests than had been their counterparts in the Iranian Revolution. The Egyptian “bazaar” is much less tied to the Muslim clergy than was the case in Iran, and far less likely to fund clerical politicians. Whereas Iran’s bazaar merchants often suffered from Western competition, Egypt’s bazaar depends centrally on Western tourism. Secular parties, if we count the NDP, have an organizational advantage over the religious ones, since they have been freer to meet and act under Mubarak. It is not clear that the law banning religious parties will be changed, in which case the Brotherhood would again be stuck with running its candidates under other rubrics. And, Sunni Muslims don’t have a doctrine of owing implicit obedience to their clergy, and the clergy are not as important in Sunni religious life as the Shiite Ayatollahs are in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood, a largely lay organization, has a lot of support, but it is not clear that they could gain more than about a third of seats even if they were able to run in free elections.

One of the sources of the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity was its opposition to Mubarak, and it may actually lose followers without him around. Other religious politicians and entrepreneurs may proliferate, in a freer atmosphere, dividing the religious section of the electorate. And, the Brotherhood could well evolve to be more like Turkey’s Justice and Development [AK] Party than like its old, sectarian, underground self. There is nothing in MB ideology that forbids participation in parliamentary democracy, even though it was not exactly a big theme of its founder, Hasan al-Banna.

Some analysts read off support for the MB from Egyptians’ religiosity. Egyptians have been undergoing a religious revival in the past couple of decades. You have to think about them like southern evangelicals in the US. When I am in Egypt it reminds me a lot of South Carolina in that regard. But that people go to mosque, or that their women wear headscarves, or that they value religion, does not necessarily translate into them voting for a sectarian and somewhat cliquish group like the Muslim Brotherhood. Many pious Muslims are factory workers and so closer to April 6 than to the Brotherhood. Many women who wear headscarves do so to legitimate their entry into the modern labor force and appearance in the public sphere. National identity co-exists with the religious. Egyptians are also great nationalists, and many insist that the Egyptian nation is a framework within which Christian Copts are completely legitimate participants.

A recent Pew poll found that 59% of Egyptians favor democracy in almost all situations. And fully 60 percent are very or somewhat worried about the specter of religious extremism in their society. About 61% do not even think there is a struggle between modernizers and religion in Egypt.

Among the 31% who did see such a struggle, 59% favored religious forces and 21% favored the modernizers. Barry Rubin and Michael Totten misread this latter statistic to be true of all Egyptians. They are wrong. The statistic is not about Egyptians in general, but about the third of them who see a conflict between modernizers and religion. 59% of 31% is 18% of the whole Egyptian population who favor fundamentalists over modernizers. The rest either favor the modernizers or think it is a phony conflict. Not thinking that modernism and religiosity conflict is generally a liberal point of view.

It cannot be assumed that the Muslim Brotherhood is the future face of Egypt, and there is no reason to think it has the popularity or levers of power that would allow it to make a coup. The Brothers are more likely to gain further influence (as they already have since 2006) via parliamentary elections. I cannot, of course, know whether there will be new parliamentary elections in Egypt soon, whether the Muslim Brotherhood will be allowed to run, or how well, exactly, they will do. They would likely be far more influential in a democratic Egypt than they have been under Mubarak, but I cannot see what would make them hegemonic. They would want liquor to be banned throughout the country, e.g. which would be very bad for tourism, and a lot of Egyptians depend on tourism. Of course, social groups sometimes do go in directions that irrationally harm their economic interests. But the Cassandras have no proof that Egyptians will take that path.

Posted in Egypt | 58 Responses | Print |

58 Responses

  1. Meanwhile, people outside the US worry that the Tea Party movement, while not itself a Christian fundamentalist thing, could easily be taken over by fundamentalists who are basically theocratic and indifferent to human rights.

      • Gordon has a grip. The Egyptian “street” is in a serious sense fighting our (ie., Americans’) battle. Liberty is liberty; it does not work too well when divided. When we support dictatorships overseas we diminish our own liberty.

        Yes, dissent is still allowed in America–but Palin’s ad about taking out Democrats as well as neo-con references under Bush to opponents of his foreign policy as traitors both demonstrate that there are those who would like to prohibit dissent in America. We all know that the phrase “take out” means “kill.” That attitude is not compatible with dissent, nor is the incarceration in solitary for six months of a suspect in the Wikileaks case.

        Liberty is like a plant; it only survives if watered.

        • Oh horse puckey,

          People have been using hyperbolic violent imagery in public discourse since the founding of this country. Refer to any easily available online library of political cartoons and tell me different.

          Liberty works perfectly well when “divided”. The governments of any nation founded on the sensibilities of the US constitution are based upon not only the idea but the base FACT that people will not always disagree-that is what dissent is: DIVISION of opinion. A government that allows free exchange of ideas (ie. the US) is wholly uncomparable to a government that does not (ie. Egypt).

          Ads that utilize the violent rhetoric are loathsome. But to equate their existence with a squashing of dissent is reactionary at best and just as loathsome at worst.

          I would hope liberty would thrive with the water of dissent-not the quashing of free speech-loathsome as it may be.

      • O ya you betcha! Only as long as you keep that police permit handy, and restrict yourself to a designated “Free Speech Zone”, if not, well, hope your health insurance is paid-up!

      • Here is why Egypt IS Iran in 2011. The grand masters of both of these coups was the CIA, MI6 and Mossad. Just like today. The usual cui bono applies equally well, esp if you pull pack the lens for a broad, panoramic shot of the New World Order.

        • Oh, stop — what are you, 8-years-old? You’ve no proof of this whacked-out conspiracy (and don’t post two dozen Alex Jones links, please) and these types of David Icke-like distraction are usually made up to attract the weak-minded and undereducated to discussion boards and to also move units of products sold to the easily frightened.

          Congratulations, you’ve proved you well situated in both categories. Are you a shape-shifter too?

      • You can bet if protesters in the states were doing what the protesters in Egypt are doing (and I totally support them) heads would be busted, people would be thrown in prison, and folks might even be shot.

        And peaceful protest (millions before the invasion in the U.S. and around the world) were ignored by our MSM. Ignored

        • hundereds of people were killed and deatined in the last 18 days, so yeah that happened in Egypt too.

    • What’s in a name? The Tea Party is first and foremost mean and selfish. Given that, anything is possible. I think they would favor a religious affiliation because they would have protection under the Constitution. After that, the politics of it all is easy. Money talks.

    • Only to be expected, of course. One reason being something nicely articulated by Olmert in 2003 and also subsequently: “More and more Palestinians … want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against `occupation,’ in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately a much more powerful one.”

    • So have they delivered proscribed crowd dispersal gases? Quite likely. Getting an Arab regime to use them against their own would be perfect.
      With the “talking points” slowly but surely and so predictably getting established – i.e. how Egyptian freedom must be suppressed so that freedom may be preserved elsewhere in the world – some are probably thinking they can get away with it. When sufficient elements in the Western media starts to solemnly accept their is a “duty” and “responsibility” to “restoring order” and preventing all the terrible things that would happen but for this pre-emption, it could happen. Any backlash and radicalisation created by this will come in useful too – and Mubarak, Israel & Neocons Co Ltd can portray themselves as essential to us all – heroically keeping the barbaric hordes at bay.
      They remind me of the Cheshire Cat. “We could make them *really* angry! Shall we try?”

      • The ‘police’ are part of the mubarak pro crowd as are his election thugs that helped him stuff the ballot boxes at the last election! The Military is not shooting anyone –it is the pro mubarak crowd..They started using tear gas last night!…Anti Gov’t groups are organizing outside Cairo to storm the Tahrir Sq to support the anti gov’t groups!

        The anti Govr’t are not armed but the mubarak thugs are! Good info in this article but time sensitive–Al Jazeera is live streaming and the UN is weighing in finally!

        Out press, aside from R.Engel, need to quit helping mubarak!

    • Why shouldn’t they be? Just imagine what would happen if Egypt when fundamentalist…

    • middle east monitor, a more legit MEMRI? the ‘israel panic’ is staged. all the contingencies have been well-covered and this next phase of MUSLIM THREAT will be a bonanza for the zionists.

  2. Mr. Cole, you wrote,”That the Egyptian Market would bankroll Egyptian fundamentalists to establish an oppressive theocracy that would permanently scare away German holiday-makers is highly unlikely.”

    On the contrary. There were large groups of German tourists in Iran in May 2009. Egypt 2011 may not be Iran 1979, but if Sharia law were imposed it could become more like Iran 2011. For a tourist uninformed or unconcerned about Iranian politics and human rights issues, Iran could simply seem a welcoming place full of beauty with the only inconveniences being having to wear a scarf and carry cash. The same could probably go for Egypt, where tourists might be more interested in “seeing ancient wonders” than appreciating contemporary Egyptian culture and supporting women’s rights that could be lost under Sharia law.

    • Get a grip Julie. I was one of them (i.e. the German Tourists you quote). We knew each other by first name after we bumped into each other in Esfahan, Teheran, Yazd and Shiraz – not only the Germans but all the other Westerners, too, because we were so few.
      Egypt doesn´t make its money with cultural tourists but with the hordes being bused into Luxor each morning from the red sea resorts. They´re probably doing what you´d call “support women´s rights” by showing off their fat sunburnt bodies in spaghetti tops and men´s underpants (some of them by paying male prostitutes – what a fantastic display of emancipation!), but almost everybody is relieved when they´re leaving town in the evening. What great embassadors of western values and lifestyle they are!
      By the way, how come you know about the tourists in Iran? you weren´t visiting the country yourself as a tourist, were you?

  3. “Many women who wear headscarves do so to legitimate their entry into the modern labor force and appearance in the public sphere.” Exact same as in Iran (only definitely less stylish):-)

    Thank you for that summary, I found it very valuable!

    The question that continues to worry me, though, is how many Egytians get a share of the cake Tourism – and how many are manipulable because they feel left out. Of course you shouldn´t slaughter the cow that gives you the milk just because someone else gets a bigger share that you … and a lot of people profit from tourism from the far e.g. because they produce goods for it.
    Traveling through the delta made me wonder though if the people there are aware of it.

  4. Prof. Cole,

    Had a couple questions (asked out of sincere lack of knowledge, pardon any ignorance)…

    1) What of the people who claim ties between the Brotherhood and Hamas a la Sinn Fein and the IRA? I’ve heard this reported in Western news, but sadly find it very difficult to get unbiased news on this right now. At any rate, the Brotherhood appears to be consistently about 12 hours behind the news cycle right now, they seem to have still not recovered from their initial failure to organize themselves into the Jan. 25th movement.

    2) Given Egypt’s persistent brain drain due to substantial opportunity for education but not much opportunity to apply said education, what do you think Al Azhar’s role might be in marshaling Egypt’s educated classes to what everyone hopes will soon be a new government? It’s an institution I’ve long had respect for – do they see themselves as participating in Egypt’s political future, or are they focused on the entirety of the ummah and likely to stay above the fray in Egypt to avoid becoming intelligentsia non grata in the event the next regime finds conflict with them?

  5. Let’s not forget that it was American support of conservative Saudi Arabis against the nationalist Egypt under Nasser that did and continues to do so much to spread fundamentalism in the Middle East. I only hope that those idiots in Washington don’t go down the same path again though I wouldn’t put it past them.

  6. US/EU/ISR/Saudi vs the people of Egypt

    US: We told you to do something earlier. Now it’s too late. You have to stay until September. That will give us time to organize a more friendly political atmosphere and prepare a new president.

    The Dictator: I can do that.

    US: Tell the army it’s the end of their welfare checks if they don’t put a stop to the demonstrations.

    The Army: We can’t shoot our own people.

    US: Then you’ll go hungry.

    US et al: (to the greater world) We believe in all the Universals. Order and Stability and Energy are major universals we believe in along with the right of people who agree with the above to beg for better conditions. That right you can count on.

    (If this peeters, you can blame the US et al for killing it. Mubarak does nothing without their consent. There’s too much money and power on the line to believe otherwise.)

  7. Dr. Cole’s attempt to infuse a bit of rational analysis into the discussion is valiant (in this US-firster climate)and valuable. On the other hand, his main audience–the educatable–are terribly conflicted on this one. In the abstract they’re behind the people, but are they willing to pay the price of their principles?

    • We’re already paying the price for our cynical imperialism; $700,000,000,000 a year for the war budget, with troops in 130 countries. Every country we move into then requires that we move into another country to protect the first. The time comes when you cannot afford to even defend your principles on your own soil.

  8. This is a great article from which I learned a lot. Certainly better than watching the endless BBC News 24 coverage which just seems to repeat the same 30 seconds of footage over and over again. Just one thing, in the 4th para. from the end – ‘people […] and their women’?

  9. Muslim Brotherhood certainly could be as influential in Egypt as the Evangelicals are in the US – they are not insignificant.

    • And in uncertain and frightening times, people turn to religion and bury themselves within it. There’s a certain psychological safety which comes from “It’s God’s will” that frightened people are willing to give up in order to hide behind.

      Will Egypt give up economic growth (tourism) and market stability (free market basics) and their identity as a progressive Arab country (democracy)? No one knows except to look at this in retrospect and Prof. Cole has done above with Iran.

  10. A very linkable post, hopefully to help offset the platoons of alarmists now swarming.

    On the other hand. There is a element of irrationality in human movements, especially with group movements. Like a herd of buffalo, a mere flash of color can spook a single individual whose reactions can turn the whole herd. There were many people who very knowledgeably and rationally opined a couple weeks ago that Tunisia was NOT Egypt. And while they were absolutely right in their analysis, they were absolutely wrong in their prognoses.

    So. All this analysis sounds rock solid, except for seeing unmistakable moderation in the MB. Fundamentally, Egypt seems to be regarded in the region as a place of thinkers and ideas. In one formulation, repeated to the point it may have become true if no other reason than repetition, Egyptians write books, the Lebanese publish them, and the Iraqi’s read them. Qutb wrote the infamous and arguable seminal “Signposts”, which has resonated with many within Salafist movements across the Arab world. Zawahiri, of AQ fame, was a product of this influence/thinking, nurtured by Egyptian state repression. It is unlikely these influences ended with him. What is more likely is that folks so radicalised have learned to be invisible in the face of a Mukabarat consider one of the most capable in the middle East. Supported to no small extent by the US, as a manifestation of softer and gentler modern neo-colonialism. The latent strength of this resentment and thinking, and the opportunity it now has to bubble up, shouldn’t be minimized.

    Adding to the other side (on the first hand?), is seems like Sunni’s are a whole lot less centralized than Sunnis. Its a crude analogy, but the Iranians in 79 could be seen as more responsive to the need/call of a commanding Pope-like presence, whereas the Sunni formulation of Islam simply doesn’t present itself with such centralized control

    Bottom line, I wouldn’t place my bets on or against any one particular outcome.

  11. Professor, thanks for the excellent and insightful coverage of the developments in Egypt. You and al Jazeera are the only credible sources of news.

  12. Dr. Cole:

    Thanks for writing this post. It is exactly the insight I was asking for in my earlier comment(s) yesterday.

    I know you wrote it for a much larger audience than just myself, but I like to think it was just for me. That allows me to imagine that I have access to an expert of your caliber, and lightening quick response, just for asking. Its how I imagine it would be to be the US President or something.

    Thanks again. I really appreciate it.

  13. One has to ask what is meant when it is said that Egypt could become “like Iran”. If by that we mean an Islamic Republic, who knows. If by that we mean a nationalistic, indigenious government that is no longer a puppet regime and can no longer automatically be assumed to play along with US-Israeli interests and goals in the Mideast, then indeed Egypt is likely to become “like Iran” and I think the latter interpretation is what the Israelis and the US really worry about, not whether Egypt will become an Islamic Republic.

  14. Jamie Rubin is all over the MSM bringing up Iran

    Richard Engel and Jamie Rubin doing everything they can to undermine El Baradei on the MSM

    When Iran comes up on the MSM not a mention of the CIA’s overthrow of a democratically elected leader in Iran in the 50’s. Not a mention

    Not a twitter person. Twitter folks. How do we get an international twitter chat going PEACEFUL PEACEFUL.

    Have so much respect for the anti Muarak protesters staying focused on PEACEFUL PEACEFUL PROTEST.

  15. Some observatios from watching CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Cspan for four days.

    Jamie Rubin seems to the appointed spokesperson for Israel. Everytime he speaks he brings up bad bad bad Iran. Also keeps repeatig that El Baradei does not have the name on the Egyptian streets. Undermining El Baradei.

    Richard Engel also seems to be undermining El Baradei.

    Zbiniew Bryzinski (sp?) was on Morning Joe the other day. As is almost always the case he made so much sense. Talked about Mubarak’s history. How there needed to be a round table, a respectful way for Mubarak to step down. Wish we heard from him more often on the evening programs.

    The MSM keeps bringing up protest in Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, etc but absolutely NO MENTION NOT EVEN A WHISPER ABOUT THE PROTEST THAT HAVE TAKEN PLACE AND CONTINUE TO TAKE PLACE IN PALESTINE.


    Andrea Mitchell, Richard Haas, Engel, others bringing up the Gaza. NOTHING ABOUT THE WEST BANK AND ILLEGAL SETTTLEMENTS.

    The other day Andrea Mitchell said this about the Egyptian protest “all they want is freedom and accessibility” She is incabalble of extending that stance to Palestinians

    If only Rachel Maddow were really committed to what she says she is about on her adds for her program “devotion to facts that borders on obsession” except when it comes to Iran and the Palestinians.

    The other day Washington Journal put up the map of the middle east with Israel and their map of the West Bank. Not the reallity the West Bank with all illegal settlements breaking up the continuity of the West Bank. So manipulative. So dishonest

    Cenk at the 6;00 p.m. MSNBC spot is getting the closest to the truth. He did an amazing segmet on the now VP of Egypt. Torture, rendition. Mentioned Jane Mayer’s new piece in the New Yorker about Suliman (sp?)

    So clear that there is one issue that is not covered by all stations Fox, MSNBC, Fox, CNN including CSPAN. Do not mention Palestinian protest. Silence

  16. Pardon my ignorance, but I have a few questions:
    1) Everyone seems to be worried that the next regime would be a “fundamentalist” and Islamic one. So wasn’t the Mubarak regime a “fundamentalist” and Secular one?
    2) Travis Bickle (in his comment above) points out:
    “…Zawahiri, of AQ fame, was a product of this influence/thinking, nurtured by Egyptian state repression….”
    Was is it not this same “fundamentalist” Secular Mubarak regime that repressed (and continues to) any (let alone the current movement) that opposes his regime?
    3) Was Sadam Hussein’s regime a “fundamentalistically” Islamic or Secular? Did he repress Muslim and Secular movements alike?
    4) Look at the current direction of the beloved US govt. pertaining to universal human rights? Is the US govt. a “fundamentalistically” Islamic?
    5) Is the Saudi Arabian govt. a fundamentalist Islamic govt. in practice or in name? If it is a fundamentalist Islamic govt., then why is it violating the most basic “fundamentals” in Islam of incorporating usury/interest in trade; repressing the rights of people to express their greviences; (the list goes on…)?
    6) As Cyrus (in his comment above) pointed out, isn’t the big worry more about US imperial hegemony (and protection of Israel) and less about the welfare of the people in any country in the middle east for that matter?
    7) Which country in the “Muslim world” can claim to be an “Islamic country” while corroborating that claim by implementing the fundamentals of Islam (of which the head-scarf of the woman is merely secondary)?

    • Both Pakistan and Afghanistan label themselves as “Islamic Republics” as does Iran, and Iraq’s constitution defines it as an Islamic federal republic. Saudi Arabia, I won’t even bother mentioning. Note that the US gets along fine will these “Islamic” countries…as long as they still do the US’s bidding.

  17. Thank you. This is excellent. Very informative and helpful. We need more of this in the media: actual information based on in-depth knowledge, both historical and on-the-ground. I sure hope that you’re right.

    This is both a hopeful and an anxious moment. In the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depends upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness. That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run. Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.

    Here’s something brief I wrote on the Muslim Brotherhood: link to mysticscholar.org

  18. The Iranian protests was much bigger than this and only one or two people were killed by the (Pro-Americans) criminals. The worldwide were broadcasting reports about Nada while now hundreds of Egyptians are killed so far and no one talks about the dictator (Joe Biden doesn’t refer to Mubarak as a dictator).

    And You should be one of the well known and respected scholars and you compare between pro-Iranian regime volunteers (Basij) with the hired goons (by our tax money)


  19. John; the Basij are well paid in kind and they hired labourers off the street corners to bash protesters in 2009 (I was told in Iran $US20/day was the going rate). The Iranian regime is primarily a tool of the military in Iran (the religion is for show and to fool the rubes) and probably has more in common with Mubarack’s than a Muslim Brotherhood alternative.

  20. Prof Cole,

    Why don’t you write this stuff in the NYT or someplace where more people can see it? Please!!

    • Hi, Sarah. Thanks for the kind words. But, you are making a couple of big assumptions.

    • The New York “bloody” Times? Come on. They will never let Juan Cole through. Hell they blocked a piece by Flynt Leverett for quite some time

      They allowed Judy “I was fucking right” Miller to repeat so many lies about Iraq and WMD’s people’s heads were spinning.

  21. If Mubarak flees and elections held then you can compare this to 1979, but if protests are crushed then it can be comparable to June 3, 1963 (15 Khordad). No twitter or face book or cell phones back then but religion. The stakes are much higher now because as Mubarak goes so does the rest of the despots.
    As for Egyptian Basije, well this will not happen again as they were bitten bloody rather quickly

  22. What I see as the defining differance between Egypt and Iran is the history. Egypt has been Egypt since before Christ, there is a true sense of nationalism evident unlike most of the put together Mid-East states; the fact that citizens look upon themselves as Egyptians before they associate ANY other adjectives is the defining point. Any faction within the country will still want to express a sense of nationalism before assigning additional tags, thus every faction has a common denominator–not neccesarily the case in Iran. The people of Egypt have an identity, I do believe they’ll keep it.

    • Umm….Iran has been Iran since 3000 years ago. Unlike the Egyptians, they did not even adopt Arabic as their language after the Islamic conquest.

  23. Dear Prof. Cole,

    Thank you for your thoughtful discussion on this topic. I have spent the past few days closely following the situation in Egypt and considered carefully whether or not we were seeing a repeat of the situation in Iran. While I do not believe that history ever repeats itself exactly, I can understand my fellow American’s fear of a repeat of the events of 1979.

    I found your observations quite enlightening, time will tell how things turn out in Egypt. For all of our sakes, and particularly for those currently struggling in Cairo and Alexandria, I hope the Egyptians win their freedom, and establish the democracy that was hoped for by the Iranians in 1979, and sadly still delayed to this day.

  24. On MSNBC’s Cenk Uygar’s news program Wednesday evening Cenk had a historian on who actually mentioned the CIA’s involvement with overthrowing the democratically elected leader in Iran in the 50’s. Tiny Breakthrough.

    Rachel Maddow keeps repeating the neo cons spin about Iran

  25. From an admittedly narrowly informed perspective (I’ve neither been to Egypt nor do I know any Egyptians) the events in Egypt look more like the run-up to the French Revolution than to the Iranian Revolution. The same type of confusion in government, a crumbling economy, increasing poverty, significant unemployment, a large, educated, bourgeoisie extremely dissatisfied with both the government and the economy, exterior powers demanding “order and stability”, increasing heavy handed suppression of dissent, a complicated array of opposition groups and leaders in yet to be defined cooperation/competition, a desire for democracy and human rights, a strong presence of rural and working class in the body of protesters, etc… There are, of course, significant differences as well not least being religion not being seen as in collusion with the ruling class and, as Mr. Cole observes, a huge dependence on exterior sources of revenue at ALL levels of society. Still, I’m betting, if the CIA, the Mossad and their counterparts keep out of the mix, that what is likely to evolve in Egypt will look more like pre-Bonaparte France (but without The Terror) than Iran. But what then? Well, as far as I can see, a Bonaparte is not on the horizon and there is no empire to build. Egypt will eventually have to stagger back into the club of nations and maintain cordial economic ties with the rest of the world which means some form of working government that can commit to coming to terms with a new political reality at home. It won’t be pretty but there is just an outside chance that the Egyptian public can forge a new model of governance that respects all its people and is less susceptible to US misdirection. But then again what do I know?

  26. Must take exception to the above post by Francis Erickson, which is 180 degrees from the facts. I think he mistakes Iran for Iraq. Iran has a 3000+ year history of nationhood, with a very strong nationalistic vein. As a matter of fact, of all the ancient middle eastern countries/states conquered by the Arabs, which then became Moslem (including Egypt), Iran was the only one that managed to keep its language. Thus, please take that consideration out of this discussion.

  27. Just want to point out a common misconception about the Greek seer Cassandra. She was right about the impending doom, but no one believed her.

    I’m not saying your theory is wrong. Quite to the contrary, it’s good to see someone speaking sense about a world that no one in the U.S. seems to take the time to know before spouting out their own uninformed views (like the neo-cons before Iraq; I mean what were they thinking? Oh, I know, they didn’t know there were two brands of Islam there, not to mention the Kurds).

    Bit of that here, too, I’m afraid.

  28. Very insightful article and a nice change from all the apocalyptic media coverage in the West. I think it’s hard to say what will be the real outcome of this revolution. However I would press anyone to consider that the Middle East is not the West. Revolutions like in Russia in 1917 or France in 1789 are not the rule in this part of the world. Western- style idealized democracy and human rights are not universal. Also there are no real leaders. It seems to me that what Egypt is driving at, is a power vacuum. And a power vacuum can be exploited by anyone, including Islamists with a friendly face, a.k.a. MB. Maybe it’s not Iran but that doesn’t mean that religious fundamentalists cannot gain power, especially if there are no alternatives. And don’t forget that next door there is a militarily powerful country with trigger-happy extremists in power supported by the US. The situation could be extremely explosive in my opinion. But all pessimism or optimism should be cautious.

  29. thanks, Prof. Very insightful and informative. I would say Egyptians and Iranians are fundamentally different – having spent some time among the people of both countries. Thanks.

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