You Say You Want a Revolution?

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Finding undue resonance in oil field “worker komitehs” and the peddling of Marxist literature in Tehran, future Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird wrote in the The Nation that “there is every reason to believe that the still unpublished [Iranian] Constitution will include all the elements of a liberal democratic system.” Mother Jones envisioned that the Islamic Revolution would result in “democratic reforms, freedom for political prisoners, an end to the astronomical waste of huge arms purchases, and a constitutional government.” French philosopher Michel Foucault similarly claimed that in Khomeini’s Iran “minorities will be protected and free to live as they please,” “there will not be inequality with respect to rights” between the sexes, and clerics would have no “role of supervision or control.”

The Left couldn’t have been more deluded in their romantic real-time portrayal of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Nearly everything said in The Nation and Mother Jones turned out to be horribly wrong. Therein lies a lesson for everyone on how not to interpret events unfolding in Egypt.

There is something narcissistic in seeing ourselves in the protesters, control-freakish in imposing a coherent narrative on chaotic protests, parochial in projecting our political ideals on their uprising, hubristic in believing half-a-world-away words by U.S. leaders will direct Egyptians who don’t care for us to resolve this dispute to our liking.

When we don’t know anything about someone we assume they are like us. But Egyptians are not Americans, so transposing our ideas on them will serve only to further confuse. So, too, will the binary thinking that automatically awards deposers the label of “liberator.” The deposers of repressive regimes do so out of a desire to escape repression. They often depose repressive regimes to become the repressors themselves. Hosni Mubarak is a bad guy. His replacement could be a very very bad guy.

“We should smile and embrace instability,” Anne Applebaum writes in the Washington Post. “And we should rejoice—because change, in repressive societies, is good.” That’s what people thought in Paris in 1789, St. Petersburg in 1917, and Tehran in 1979. One might presume that the repeated experience of bad going to worse would discourage such dangerous optimism for Cairo in 2011. Alas, that presumption wouldn’t have learned anything from history, either.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at

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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.