Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt 2011, Iran 2018

Despite headline protests, political institutions in Iran remain strong and entrenched. Egypt could learn lessons from this, as there may be further storms to weather in the period ahead, writes Hussein Haridy


In a few days, Egyptians will reflect on the lessons learned from the uprising of 25 January 2011. The approaching seventh anniversary of the mass popular demonstrations in major cities in Egypt, in particular Cairo, has coincided with similar demonstrations across Iran that began on 28 December 2017 and subsided 10 days later.

When the demonstrations in Iran kept attracting new demonstrators, and some demonstrations turned violent, setting police stations on fire and targeting policemen on the streets, Arabs and Americans used the term “Iranian Spring”, reminiscing on the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011 and 2012. They began discussing future scenarios in Iran in terms similar to what had already transpired in some Arab countries, among which Egypt stands as a stark example, in overthrowing regimes and rulers. On the official level, some American officials of the Trump administration even went as far as predicting a Syria-like scenario in Iran. Wishful thinking, some Iran watchers would definitely say.

How events unfolded in Iran belied all hasty predictions that were made concerning the ultimate outcome of the popular protests. Ten days after, the government in Tehran brought the situation under control, to the dismay of the United States and some of its allies in the Middle East. The US administration took the unusual step of calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday, 5 January 2018, to discuss the Iranian demonstrations. The Russians were right to accuse the Americans of meddling into the domestic affairs of a member state in the United Nations. Moreover, the Security Council, according to the charter of the world organisation, deals with situations that endanger international peace and security. The demonstrations across some Iranian cities do not constitute a threat to international peace and security. To which the outspoken permanent representative of the United States to the UN, Ambassador Nick Haley, came up with a twisted explanation saying the way the Iranian government had met the demonstrators ran against human rights and, accordingly, could pose a threat to international peace and security.

Direct and aggressive American meddling in Iran’s domestic affairs during the brief popular unrest was different from the way the Obama administration had dealt with the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and its consequences up to 2014. But the objectives were not different; namely, to topple regimes and bring in pro-American regimes that could ultimately accept Greater Israel. In other words, American strategic thinking has remained unchanged. How to turn the Middle East into an Israel-led region? The answer to this question would provide us with a clearer understanding in coming to grips with American policies in Egypt and Iran during the last seven years. In this context, the role that former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton conspicuously played in Egyptian affairs in 2011-2013 is a precursor of the role that Haley presently performs. The former was subtler and the latter smacks of a certain and unacceptable arrogance of power. The major difference between Egypt and Iran, in this context, is that Egypt is an “ally” of the United States, or a “strategic partner”, and Iran is the archenemy of Washington or, to be more precise, Americans have made it so.

The close relationship between Egypt and the United States made it quite easy for the Americans to work with the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, and some other Egyptian politicians and recruits among the youth with direct support from non-governmental organisations, beneficiaries of US and Western largesse, to tell former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to relinquish power. Obama had gone as far as publicly demanding the departure of Mubarak when he had said that “immediately means now.”

The Iranian case proved to be different. The absence of an American presence inside Iran, the fact that there are no diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, the all-time vigilance of Iranian security services to any foreign attempt to penetrate Iranian society, are factors that explain why the United States doesn’t have influence in the domestic political scene in Iran. Resorting to the direct use of force would be sheer folly, even to contemplate.

Another major difference between the case of Egypt and Iran is that, in the former, the political legitimacy of the Mubarak regime slowly dissipated in its last years for a variety of reasons — economic, political and in terms of poor governance. However, in the latter case, the political legitimacy of the Iranian regime is almost intact, regardless of popular unrest lately. And all state institutions — the army, the security services and the Revolutionary Guard — still owe allegiance to Supreme Guide Ayotallah Ali Khamenei. The political and temporal theory of valeyat-e-fakih has not been, largely, contested on the streets across Iran. In addition, political institutions have stood solidly behind the system in a way that maybe took outsiders by surprise. Moreover, the power of religion has been on the side of the Iranian regime. In the case of Egypt, such a power proved to be the undoing of the Mubarak era, in collaboration with the United States and some regional partners and allies.

The resilience of political institutions in Iran, the deeply-entrenched political legitimacy of the regime, and strong and dissuasive military forces, have enabled the Iranian regime to weather the storm of the so-called American and Western-instigated “Springs”. Whereas the case of Egypt was the opposite.  Egypt is paying a very high price for the absence of all of the above. The recent lessons of the Iranian case should be studied and reflected upon within Egypt to safeguard against future Spring-like winds, similar to the ones that had blown fiercely and with gale-like force seven years ago. I am afraid there could be a rising storm on the horizon.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

add comment

  • follow us on