Monthly Archives: December 2013

Why the Iranian Scenario Failed in Egypt? – Part III : Comparing the Revolutions

Mideast Two Revolutions

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran to board a plane to leave Iran on Jan. 16, 1979.

The Shah and Empress Farah Diba stayed for a week at the Oberoi Hotel in the winter resort town of Aswan. They attended state dinners and went sightseeing with President Sadat and the first lady. The Shah also met with the American President Gerald Ford who was on a Middle East tour. The small quite town of Aswan buzzed with journalists, reporters and photographers from all over the world. The despair and exhaustion were evident in the photos of the Iranian royals. The news that was coming from Iran was bleak and disturbing.


Tehran, December 1978: Rioters burn a portrait of the shah in protest against his regime. Thousands chanted “Long Live Khomeini” and “Death to the Shah.” The revolt against the shah raised alarm bells in the West.
Abbas/Magnum Photos

With the events unfolding back home, it was obvious that the world was witnessing the end of the Pahlavi Dynasty that ruled for 53 years.

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Arrival of Khomeni to Tehran

Their second stop on their journey to exile was Morocco. The Shah’s departure from Egypt was again a focal point to the world’s events. And of equal importance, if not more, was the arrival of Khomeni a week later to Tehran on board an Air France jet, thus ending his 15 years in exile. An estimated number of 3 million Iranians were at the airport to greet him. His return resurrected the hopes of the nation for a better future.


In Tehran, supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini hold his poster aloft in a January 1979 demonstration against the shah.
AFP/Getty Images

The Iranian revolution of 1979, and similar to the Egyptian one on January 2011, was a people’s revolution that started as a non-religious uprising fueled by a plummeting economy against a corrupt and oppressive regime that was supported by the US. However, unlike the headless Egyptian revolution, the charismatic Khomeni, who was also supported by the moderates and liberals, was ready to fill the power gap created by the departure of the Shah.

The Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Badie, had no influence beyond the members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization. And after Mubarak stepped down, a military council ran the country’s affairs for two years until a president was elected. It was quite obvious that the MB with its core expertise  in social and charitable work was politically challenged. For many decades they were planning and plotting to rule, but never groomed any of their leaders for political positions, not to mention for governing a nation. When they saw the chance was appropriate to hijack the revolution, they pushed for Mohamed Morsi to run, out of necessity rather than out of proper planning. The incompetent and un-charismatic engineer proved complete failure outside of the ring of his supporters. Also Morsi’s arrogance alienated the opposition. And after few months in power, it was obvious that he was not the president of all Egyptians as he promoted himself during his campaign, but the president of his followers. That created a wide division among Egyptians.

Other than the incompetence of Morsi’s government, the most important factor that contributed to the failure of the Islamic government in Egypt was the role played by the Egyptian armed forces. In Iran, the army and police witnessed a lot of deserters who changed camps and together with the opposition they joined Khomeni’s new revolutionary government. They carried weapons, attacked and took control over the police stations, prisons and army installations. On Feb 11, 1979, the military gave in to the revolutionaries and announced they would remain neutral, and from this point on the rebels took control.1 With the Egyptian revolution, the army and police remained intact and united. Also, both entities announced that they are siding with the Egyptian people and not with the ruler, even though there were multiple inappropriate incidents caused by them that involved civilian fatalities. Their support for the people was a big blow in the face of the Islamists.

By the end of March 1979, Khomeni declared the removal of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Shortly after that he established the revolutionary guards, which was of equal importance to the army forces. In Egypt, timing was crucial, and had they had sufficient time, the Islamists would have followed in the footsteps of Khomeni to establish a shadow army within the Egyptian army, but with absolute loyalty to the MB. And to accomplish that Morsi pardoned thousands of inmates who were charged with terrorism under Mubarak’s rule. He also allowed the return of the Egyptian Mujahedeen and other nationals who were fighting in Afghanistan. His vision was to form an army of soldiers who are willing to die for Islam rather than for the country. Under his watch, young men were sent to Gaza to train with the Hamas forces, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Khomeni was ruthless with his opposition. A spree of executions of the old regime shocked not just the moderates and the liberals in Iran, but also the international community, even the ones who supported the ousting of the Shah. The young radicals of the revolution became Khomeni’s weapons against his rivals and the moderate voices in Iran were silenced and often executed.2 The nightmare of the Iranian revolution hovered over people’s heads in Egypt and when Morsi tried to consolidate powers and to have the upper hand over the judiciary system, like Khomeni did, the spark of the second revolution of June 30th 2013 was ignited.

While Khomeni synchronized with the tunes of the Iranians, neither Morsi nor his organization’s alien doctrine that was imported from the Arabian Sahara was appealing to the vast majority of Egyptians. The Egyptians with the support of the Egyptian armed forces were able to rid themselves of a new theocratic regime that was about to hijack their freedom, identity and their country.

  1. Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran, Empire of the mind, page 262
  2. Ibid, page 263


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Why the Iranian Scenario Failed in Egypt? – Part Two


Anti-Shah demonstrators, marching near a shopping street in Tehran, Dec. 27, 1978.

— By Alexandra Kinias —-

Leaving behind the unrest that had erupted a year earlier by the anti-royalists and had spread to every corner of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was then diagnosed with cancer, fled Tehran with his family. He and his family arrived to Aswan, Egypt; the first stop on their journey to exile. The departure of the Shah from Iran ended the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty that had started in 1926 with the coronation of his father Reza Khan after he deposed of Ahmed Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty in 1925. In less than two decades after his coronation, Reza Pahlavi alienated his government and the people of Iran. His rule was brutal and he eliminated not just his opponents, but also his allies if he suspected their disloyalties.

The Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran in 1941 forced Reza Shah to abdicate the throne in in favor of his son Mohamed Reza. He went to exile to South Africa where he died in 1944. Mohamed Reza was coronated as the new Shah at the age of 22. The young Shah followed in the footsteps of his father. A failed assassination attempt on his life in 1949 caused strife, unrest, and demonstrations which resulted in imposing martial law.[1]

Under the tyranny of the Shah’s rule, Iranians lived a very difficult life for four decades. The dramatic saga of the Pahlavi Dynasty was filled with perpetual episodes of turmoil and turbulence. The Shah tightened his grip on power and maintained stability by repressing, torturing and executing the dissidents and opposition. Candidates in the government were selected based on their support, loyalty and obedience to the Shah, and so were the members of the religious council. However, in time even the religious clerics became hostile to the ruler and his regime. SAVAK (The Iranian Security Agency) grew in power and efficiency in hunting down all oppositions and it became the symbol of brutality.

In 1963 the stardom of Ayatollah Rouhalla Khomeini, the young preacher from Qom, was raised. In his sermons, Khomeini attacked the corrupted government of the Shah and its failure to provide to the poor and needy and its allegiance to the US on account of losing the Iranian sovereignty.[2] SAVAK raided the madrassah where Khomeini preached and he was arrested. After his release he persisted on attacking the government. Upon his second arrest, demonstrations erupted in Tehran and other major cities and lasted for many days. Martial law was imposed and the army troops took the streets to reinstate law and order. Hundreds of protesters were killed in these events.[3]

His eloquence, intellect and shrewdness in addressing political issues and avoiding the ones that created political division, eventually elevated him to the rank of a national leader that attracted even the liberal opposition. Khomeni was arrested and released multiple times before he was sent to exile in 1964. These events that led to his exile made him the leading political figure opposed to the Shah.[4]

After Khomeni’s exile, SAVAK brutality soared. Activists were thrown in jail, tortured and executed. The media and press were controlled and censored, and elections were rigged. In 1975 Amnesty International pronounced the Shah’s government to be one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.

While the economy improved because of the soaring oil prices, the Shah had no political vision or plan for reform. His short term solution to achieve political stability, until the country prospered under his economic policies was the repression, torture or execution of the dissidents. He believed that only the economic reforms would secure his rule. However, his policies proved to be a failure and in time the monarchy became more remote and disconnected from the needs of the people.

While on exile, Khomeni’s speeches and messages criticizing the regime were recorded on cassette tapes and smuggled into Iran for everyone to hear. He developed his theory of opposition and wrote a book about his vision of an Islamic government. [5]

Having succeeded to alienate almost all sectors of the society, the Shah’s popularity plummeted and by 1977 it reached its worse state. In January of 1978 an article published in a newspaper attacking Khomeni was widely disapproved and created an upheaval in his home town of Qom. Thousands of students demonstrated demanding an apology to Khomeni and an end to his exile. Clashes between the police and the students resulted in several deaths of students. And from his exile in Paris, Khomeni praised the courage of the students and called for more demonstrations.[6]

In an escalation of events, more demonstrations erupted in cities across Iran and more students were shot dead. The numbers of demonstrators augmented and the violence intensified. The army took control of the streets. Tanks and helicopters intervened to disperse the demonstrations and as the streets got bloodier, the voices that demanded that the Shah should grew louder.

By then all opposition groups stood in support of Khomeni. With more desertion from the army, the demonstrations were no longer controllable. And as his health deteriorated, the Shah lost control.On June 16, 1979, the Shah and his family left Tehran for Egypt, the first stop in his journey to exile. In two weeks after his departure, Khomeni returned to Tehran on February 1, 1979, and a new Iran was born ….

To be continued …..

[1] Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran, Empire of the mind,235
[2] Baqer Moin, Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, 31
[3] Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran, Empire of the mind,243
[4] ibid,245
[5] ibid,252
[6] ibid,256

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Why the Iranian scenario failed in Egypt? Part One

Alexandra Kinias —

The year 1979 was a turning point in the world events. In the same year that Margaret Thatcher became new prime minister of Great Britain and Mother Theresa won the Nobel Peace Prize, other events occurred that sowed the seeds of the insanity that the world is witnessing today. Few days after the year started, the Shah left Iran and the revolutionary forces under Khomeini took over in February. In November of that year, the Iranian militants seized the US embassy in Tehran and took hostages. The crescendo that ended the year was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, from which the world has not recovered yet from its consequences. And it doesn’t seem that it will in the near future. It was overwhelming to watch all these events unfold in front of my eyes.

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The Shah and Empress Farah, 1967

I was fifteen years old when I watched the Imperial Jet that carried the Iranian monarchs and their entourage, which was piloted by the Shah, arrived to Aswan’s airport on January 16th, 1979, after they fled Tehran. In a somber atmosphere, the Shah and Empress Farah were met by President Sadat and the First Lady Jihan. The royal couple received a full ceremonial welcome and was greeted by 21 gun salutes. They looked distressed and tired when they removed the sunglasses they were wearing when they exited the plane. Egypt was the first stop where their exile began.

I have always been overwhelmed with the Iranian monarchs. Tales from the Peacock Throne fascinated me. The Peacock Throne was originally a lavish gold throne that weighed more than a ton and was adorned with precious jewels, pearls and diamonds, including the famous 186-carat koh-i-Noor. It was built for the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in the 17th century, who also commissioned the Taj Mahal. The throne derived its name from the design of the two peacocks that stood behind it, with their tails spread out. It was taken by the Persian ruler Nadir Shah when he invaded India in 1730. Even though the throne disappeared in history, yet the Persian Empire became known as the Peacock Throne. In perpetuation of the tradition into the 20th century, the Pahlavi Dynasty of Iran called their ceremonial seat “The Peacock Throne”.

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Shah of Iran, Mohamed Reza, with Empress Farah and son Prince Reza, wearing crown jewels & embroidered robes during coronation.

The splendor of the 2,500th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Persian Empire held in Persepolis was unprecedented. It took ten years to plan this event that was held in October 1971 and was attended by members of royal families, world dignitaries and distinguished guests. The lavish dinner included 50 roasted peacocks stuffed with fois gras and was catered by the French restaurant Maxim of Paris.

My fascination with Iran and its royal family is credited to the time when Egypt and Iran had an intimate relationship in the 1940s when the young crown prince Mohamed Reza Pahlavi tied the knot with the Egyptian beauty, Princess Fawzia, the sister of King Farouk, in 1939. In 1941 she became Empress of Iran and in 1945 she left Iran back to Egypt and never returned. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1948. The young couple had one daughter, Princess Shahnaz, born in 1940.


Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Princess Fawzia

I was born fourteen years after the revolution that dethroned King Farouk. And similar to most Egyptians, I was enchanted by the beauty of Princess Fawzia and captivated by the glamour, elegance and grace of the royal life. For many people who grew up in Egypt prior to the 1952 coup d’état, the photos left behind from that era bring back nostalgic memories to the days that are long gone, but never forgotten.


Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Empress Fawzia and their daughter Shahnaz

And as I child, not much of the political turmoil in Iran was much of interest to me, but I had developed a fascination with the Iranian royal family and a crush on the young Prince that made me follow their news. And while I was living in my fantasy world, the Iranian revolution was brewing.


Royal Family of Iran

To be continued …..


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