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