You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Hundreds dead, violent street demonstrations, a repressive autocratic regime nearing its third decade, new technology fueling the protests, and the threat of Islamic fundamentalists filling the void—one could be talking about Egypt today or Iran in 1979. Perhaps more indicative of the parallels than the similarity of events on the ground are the far-away reactions.

“Proving the Iraq war wasn’t needed, these protests in Egypt, as well as in Yemen and Tunisia, are all aimed at dictators supported by the US,” responded Chris Matthews to the upheaval in the Arab world. For Elliott Abrams, “the revolt in Tunisia, the gigantic wave of demonstrations in Egypt and the more recent marches in Yemen all make clear that [George W.] Bush had it right.”

Reactions to unfolding events often tell us more about those reacting than about the events themselves. This is true about Western reactions to the crisis in Egypt. It is also true about reactions to the crisis in the region a generation ago.

Many left-wing Westerners found a kindred spirit in the Ayatollah Khomeini — whose despotism went on to viciously persecute homosexuals, religious minorities, women and political opponents — and to engage in general bellicosity. In 1979, all of that was yet to come, yet large segments of the Left saw themselves in the Islamic revolutionaries — while it wasn’t difficult to predict the ensuing authoritarianism of the new regime. The revolutionists were anti-American, and so were Western radicals. More importantly, the revolutionists were revolutionists and that somehow made them Marxists.

Calling the Islamic Revolution “one dictatorship replacing another” was to “oversimplify,” reported the Manchester Guardian’s Liz Thurgod. The left-wing daily repeated Khomeini’s claims to support political and religious freedom, predicting in February 1979 the emergence of an “introverted” nation ready to jettison “big arms spending.” The Guardian reassured, “The excesses of such regimes as Libya and Saudi Arabia have been ruled out.”

Ted Grant, a mainstay on the UK Left, found in the Islamic Revolution “scenes reminiscent of the February Revolution of 1917.” Predictably, he credited an imagined proletariat for the revolt against the Shah. “As the struggle deepened, it was the movement of the working class, as in Russia, which became the main battering ram for the awakening people.” The religious nature of the movement was downplayed or explained away. “Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government,” Grant forecasted, and “trade unions in Iran will have an explosive growth.”

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  • StephenD

    “We should smile and embrace instability,” Anne Applebaum writes in the Washington Post. “And we should rejoice—because change, in repressive societies, is good.”So chaos, uncertainty, unabashed lust for power from undesirables is something to smile about? When you "change" from person to prisoner is that something to be rejoiced over? Change may be good…just as it may be bad. To cheer this movement and open the door to such extreme ideology (MB) who have yet to recant their goal of establishing a Caliphate and having Islam (Sharia) rule world wide, subjugating all other peoples is to cheer your own destruction. I weep for our grandchildren ~ if it even takes that long. I look for the fulfillment of Isaiah 19 in Egypt’s case.

  • WildJew

    Why worry about the left. Look at the "Right."

    John Podhoretz – 02.01.2011 – 6:50 PM "First impression: He (Obama) got the tone exactly right, after days of getting it wrong."

    "Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world" by Elliott Abrams, Washington Post, Friday, January 28, 2011; 4:00 PM

  • WildJew

    Mitt Romney, (according to Politico) the only top-tier candidate to come out in support of President Barack Obama’s handling of the situation, asserted Tuesday that Mubarak should step down. And he came closest to expressing support for Obama’s approach, a position that put him at risk with a conservative base that is deeply antagonistic toward the president.

    "I think what the United States has to do is make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom and we also have to communicate — I think as the administration has,” he said on ABC’s "Good Morning America."

    Both House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell offered their support for Obama's handling of the Egyptian crisis.

  • Wesley69

    A good anaylsis. This revolution in Egypt could easily be hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood just as the 1979 Iranian Revolution was by the hard-line Clerics, lead by Khomeini.

    Leftists fail to understand, what they want to see happen, is immaterial. They, for all their supportive talk, don't have a horse in the race.

    The US needs to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

    The Muslim uprisings in the Mideast NEED to be investigated. Did any one or thing here in the US have ANYTHING to do with them????

  • Liberty Clinger

    The only revolution in history which went from bad to good was the American Revolution of 1776 – all so-called revolutions since then have in effect been counter-revolutions against the principles of the individual's God-given equal rights to life, liberty and fruit of labor in pursuit of happiness. If Left is defined as government domination of the individual and his/her unalienable rights, then the American Revolution was the only Left to Right revolution in human history. The Marxist counter-revolutions have all been Left to Left, and the same is true for the Islamist Iranian counter-revolution of 1979 – all counter-revolutionary against the sacred equal rights of the individual.

  • Nick Shaw

    Wesley, I don't know if the left doesn't have a horse (or should that be a camel?) in this race. The AFL-CIO has been working in Egypt along with Ayers, his harradan wife, Code Pink and Wade Rathky (I hope I spelled that right) of ACORN fame. Further, I saw an awful lot of hammer and sickle flags in the films of demonstrations in Jordan. And Liberty, yes, we can look back and say it went from bad to good, however, who knows how it would have gone if there were an established left with access to Twitter? All I am willing to say is that it did not take a great many followers of Marxist ideals to bring down the Csar. It will take just as few to usher in the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist rabble rousers will find they have hold of the wrong end of the stick while poking this fire.

  • Micah

    This article sounds racist. The revolution taking place is not particularly fundamentalist. I have many friends living in Egypt, normal friendly, rational people who are participating in these demonstrations.
    Pictures coming from Tahrir square regularly show Christians participating. I saw several women wearing gold crosses around their necks.
    You assume that any uprising in the Middle East must be Islamist. If not, please articulate what sort of uprising would convince you that the Egyptians are worthy of democracy? (Note, the very act of calling into question whether Egyptians are worthy of democracy comes across as ridiculously condescending. But, it seems to be what you want to do…)
    If we embrace these average people who are in the streets, we will find them very willing to work with us. I've lived in Egypt. I know Egyptians. They are good people.
    But, If we push them away in their time of need, they will turn in increasing numbers to more radical ideologies.

    • Nick Shaw

      Micah, I have no doubt that there are many, if not a majority of, Egyptians involved in demonstrations who are fervently hoping for a true democracy and the freedoms that go along with it. I submit, the majority of writers here wish them success. The article is simply pointing out that the good intentions of the masses are oft-times usurped by some truly nasty characters. I'm sure you will not deny the presense of the Muslim Brotherhood and that it can, and possibly will, fill the void left by the fall of Mubarik. I don't think it had racist overtones at all.

  • Rifleman

    So that's what cranes are for, silly me, I thought they were for building.