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Despite efforts to prove otherwise, the current political movement in Egypt is following a parallel political course seen in 1978-79 Iran. From the optimism of the protesters to the hovering fundamentalist influences, the Egyptian people must demand that their movement and cries for freedom are heeded and not hijacked. The Iranian people learned that the hard way.
Thirty years ago, the Iranian people poured into the streets demanding that their Shah be ousted. They did not have a viable alternative, and the absence of an organized opposition made for a facile takeover by an Islamic government.
Similar to Mubarak’s government, the United States had a friendly relationship with the Shah of Iran and his regime. The people were liberal. Some women marched in tank tops and short skirts and others in headscarves. Men and women protested together. Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahais and Muslims stood by one another in demanding that a new democratic government replace the Shah.
Their demands were idealistic with no realistic manner in which to implement them. Similar to the Egyptians, they were fed up, and the consensus was, there was no going back. The Iranians could only go forward to see who would fill the political vacancy they had so quickly evacuated.
Iran had several competing opposition groups, but none were sufficiently organized or widely supported to compete with what was to come. Their preoccupation with the dismissal of the Shah got in the way of their own political gains. The Constitutionalist Liberals, the National Front, Marxist groups such as the Tudeh Party of Iran and the Fedaian, and the most powerful guerrilla group, the People’s Mojahedeen, known today as the MEK (a leftist Islamist group) had been around for decades. While they were influential in ousting the Shah, they lacked the leadership and political sophistication to actually replace him.
As the Shah departed Iran, the people rejoiced the possibility of freedom and democracy, but instead, Iran’s democratic movement and all other political parties were pushed aside by an organizational genius who was as scheming as he was shrewd: the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had a masterful plan for the Iranian people and the future of the country.
Khomeini quickly formed the Interim Government of Iran in 1979, also known as the Provisional Revolutionary Government, and by February, appointed Mehdi Bazargan as the interim Prime Minister. Bazargan was an obvious choice; a modern, well dressed, highly-educated engineer with good diplomacy skills.
Two days after Americans were taken hostage at the American Embassy, Bazargan and all members of his cabinet resigned Nov. 6, 1979, and Khomeini, seemingly happy about the resignation, handed power to the Revolutionary Council.
Two weeks ago, Mohsen Rezaii, Iran’s former Revolutionary Guard Commander called Bazargan’s appointment “the biggest trick pulled by the Imam Khomeini to hoodwink the Americans back in 1979.”
Given the similarities in movements, we hope that 30 years from now, a commander from the Muslim Brotherhood won’t claim the appointment of Mohamed ElBaradei, the informal Egyptian opposition leader, was a trick used to likewise dupe the Americans now.
The similarities between Bazargan and ElBaradei, coupled with comparisons that can be drawn between the Islamic Republic and the Muslim Brotherhood, are alarming, particularly since they can cost the Egyptians their movement and the future of their country.
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