What I Learned From Iran’s Failed Revolution


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PARIS — By removing a despot who was the main obstacle to democracy, the Tunisian revolt has immense importance for the Arab and Islamic world. Above all, it has opened up a future that, due to the iron grip of an authoritarian political system backed by European and Arab governments, had been considered closed.

As we see from the burgeoning demonstrations in Egypt, it is not lost on others in the region that ousting corrupt autocrats is no longer just an impossible dream. Tunisia’s message to others in the region is that despotism is not a lot in life to which they must submit. That message is spreading fast because the Tunisian democratic movement is legitimately homegrown and not tied to a Western sponsor, as was the case with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

As I well know from personal experience, however, an open future includes not only the possibility of democracy, but the possibility of resurgent dictatorship.

In order to achieve democracy and diminish the prospect of a new strongman taking over, certain conditions have to be fulfilled.

First, the movement has to distance itself from the old regime and its elites. Revolutions only happen when the system is thoroughly dismantled and rebuilt. For now, the political and neoliberal economic structures that supported Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s dictatorship, although shaken and fragile, are to a large extent still intact. The same elites are still in charge.

From this perspective, it was a mistake for the movement to enter into negotiations to form a coalition government with the old elites. They can be trusted only when they voluntarily resign and allow themselves to be replaced by others elected by the people.

Second, the entire structure of the despotic regime — the executive, judiciary and legislative branches — should be revolutionized. It would be a mistake to limit the objectives of the movement to simply changing personalities.

The lack of experience on the part of ordinary people should not lead the movement to import elites from the former regime into the new government. My experience of the 1979 Iranian revolution taught me that in any department and ministry there are enough patriotic experts who are not tarnished by their association with the former regime and who are willing to play a constructive role in rebuilding the country. The fact that the existing elites have the lion’s share of the seats in government indicates that there is a serious shortcoming here. This gap has to be filled as soon as possible; otherwise, the elites of the ancien régime will reconstitute their power.

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  • Guest

    You misread that Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood haven't a hand in the violent wresting of power. And believing that a democracy will somehow consolidate from these protests is wishful thinking at best.

  • Jim

    The lesson is :don't throw a revolution unless you have the fire power to win.

    Fighting rulers with rocks for brains means losing is a deadly option. Don't lose.

  • ARay

    Revolutions are messy and usually bloody affairs. Why should these be any different? Everyone wants change without pain. Change without pain festers into revolution. The Middle East is turning to revolt in 4 countries, perhaps the time has come for real change there. Let the chips fall where they may.

  • USMCSniper

    The Muslim Brotherhood will win in the end and Egypt will become a haven and training ground for Jihadists.

    • Fred Dawes

      More work for the old US Army, this is going to be fun. soon the jihad Rats will be here and we can all have a good time, only joking!" Look guys", this nation is not in the hands of its own people it is in the hands of others. ask how many unbelievers did the people of Egypt? kill? how many under one years old how many old and good, the muslim is only fighting so he or she can get here inside the USA To murder you!

      Obama did state he needed a Army maybe that is what he is doing now?

  • scum

    Of course the Muslim Brotherhood will win, or at least gain leverage in a restructured Egypt. Sounds like the Snipe's starting to learn about BLOWBACK.

  • Fred Dawes

    the coming years will be known as the year that the USA Became a target nation.