Consider the issue of the hijab, the female “veil”—the proliferation of which, according to one former Islamist and associate of al-Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri, is associated with a Muslim society’s downward spiral into oppression and terror.
Prior to Egypt’s presidential elections, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, assured the nation’s liberals and secularists that, as president, he would certainly not enforce the hijab: “Many people are speaking nonsense, saying that I will impose the hijab against the will of the people; no one is going to force anyone to wear a specific uniform.”
These are famous words, spoken almost verbatim some 33 years earlier, in Iran, at the time of the 1979 revolution. In fact, during the early days of the revolution, Ayatollah Mahmud Taleghani, a popular mullah of the revolution, in an article meant to reassure the secularists who participated in the overthrow of the Shah that an Islamic government would certainly not interfere with their freedoms, declared in the March 11, 1979 edition of Iran’s newspaper, Ettela’at, that “The hijab will not be a matter of coercion.”
The rest is history. Within months of the founding of the Islamic Republic, the 1967 Family Protection Law was repealed, female government workers were made to wear the hijab, women were barred from becoming judges, sex-segregation laws were promulgated, the marriage age for girls was dropped to 13, and married women were barred from attending regular schools. Today, Iranian women are regularly beaten if they are not dressed in appropriate hijab.
The parallels between Iran and Egypt do not end with the hijab. While today it is standard to think of the 1979 Iranian revolution as a purely Islamic affair, in fact, many of the revolutionaries were secular, liberal, Marxist, non-Muslim, etc. The one goal that glued them altogether was the desire to overthrow the autocratic Shah. Many of these Iranians did not want an Islamic government, certainly not a theocracy. And indeed, not just the Ayatollah Taleghani, but the Ayatollah Khomeini, played down Sharia’s draconian role to mobilize all these divergent segments of society—until he was fully entrenched in power, that is.
In short, the Iranian Revolution began as a heterodox affair, with different revolutionary factions and different ideological agendas, but it ended with the rise of a totalitarian Islamic republic.