TitleWhy Khamenei & Netanyahoo both compare Egypt today with Iran's Islamic Revolution 1979?

Ayatollah Khamenei is afraid of Egypt

10 Feb 2011

■ Shervin Nekuee
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Ayatollah Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was already in the eighties designated by his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini as the leader of Tehran’s Friday prayer. But these days, he rarely appears as such and likes others to take the lead in this weekly ceremony. Some people attribute this to his deteriorating physical health. Khamenei has been plagued for years now by an obstinate prostate cancer that makes it difficult for him to stand for a long time (Friday prayer sermons have to be delivered while standing). His rare performances as the Friday prayer leader is undoubtedly also related to the fact that this old wolf – who by now has torn apart and devoured many of his rivals – knows how to pick the right moment. His sermon on June 19, 2009 was a good example. After one week of peaceful demonstrations by the Green Movement against the massive presidential election fraud, Khamenei issued a license to kill against the protestors, leading immediately to citizens being shot the following day. It is a day that has come to be known as the ‘Bloody Saturday’ of Iranian history, with Neda Agha Soltan as the icon of all those Green Movement victims who lost their lives during the following days.

Now, during the Friday prayer of February 4, 2011, Khamenei again knew how to pick his moment. It is again about the fight of citizens for free elections, this time not in Iran but in Egypt, and an uprising against another leader, Hosni Mubarak, a secular dictator. Khamenei called the revolt in Egypt a sign of ‘Islamic awakening’ in Egypt and calls on the Egyptian people to follow in the footsteps of the Iranians of 1979 and found an Islamic Republic.
By putting the revolt in Egypt on a par with Iran 1979, Khamenei ironically associates himself with a large group of politicians you would at first sight not associate him with. Taking the lead in this comparison is Israel’s president Netanyahu, followed by the mouthpieces of the Israeli stance in Europe and the United States, like Holland’s Islamophobic Geert Wilders, who warned for the danger of Islamism when protests in Egypt started erupting. Of course Netanyahu & co do not have the same motives as Khamenei. I will come back to this later. But why should many independent Western intellectuals and commentators like Timothy Garton Ash woud choose for the same set of arguments and alarming for the possibility of a second Iran 1979 events? I believe that Garton Ash and the like are not known with the dynamics and the processes of the street-politics of Tehran then nor they have a clear picture of what happening on the street-levels of Cairo today. So, let’s take a look at the facts.

What is striking when comparing the Egyptian revolt with the Islamic Revolution are exactly the great contrasts between both. One of the first things Egyptian people are telling western cameras in their streets is that ‘they do not want to become a second Iran’. The slogans and demands of the street are about free elections, economic rights and civil rights. They are directed at state corruption and not against the West. They do not rule in favor of an Islamic state, nor is the name of one particular leader being chanted or can you notice a sea of posters of one absolute, let alone that Cairo is full of portraits of a religious leader. This of course hardly looks like the Islamic Revolution of 33 years ago. The Iranian Revolution had one undisputed charismatic leader, ayatollah Khomeini. The slogans pleading for an Islamic Republic turned up rather early on in the chants of the larger part of the demonstrators, and radical anti-Americanism was what united Islamists and secular protesters. Moreover, the few specialists who both know the Iranian Revolution and have followed from close-by the development of the Muslim Brotherhood, like American-Iranian Asef Bayat (professor at Illinois University and the author of Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (2010)), repeatedly stress in their conclusions that the Muslim Brotherhood is glancing at Turkey and is charmed by the AK Party’s successful participation in the democratic process rather than by the ayatollahs’ bloody regime in Iran.

Netanyahu’s supposed ‘Islamic’ aspect of the revolt in Egypt is an argument to temper the support of western states and civil society for the uprising, because Israel is afraid a state would emerge that is just like Turkey critical about the Palestinian settlements and Israel’s Gaza policy. And even worse: that the Egypt front would arise again and that the hostile war years between Egypt and Israel would return. That would cause the military authority of Israel at the Lebanon and Syria front to go down and would force Israel to make concessions to Arab and Palestinian neighbors. Our Dutch Geert Wilders shares Netanyahu’s concern about a weakened Israeli position in the region, and apart from that, he’s of course worried about the danger of his ideological core statement being falsified. Muslims who are prepared to sacrifice their own lives to achieve democracy and human rights is of course something that goes against his ‘Eurabia’ scenario of Islam and democracy being incompatible, and the danger of Muslim barbarism.

What causes Khamenei to make this misplaced statement? Old age? Ignorance?

So for the main motive of Netanyahu & co for using Iran 1979 as a specter to make a distorted view what is happening in Egypt. But what causes Khamenei to make this misplaced statement? Old age? Ignorance? It is in this case useful to know that only a couple of hours after his sermon, Khamenei was hit hard in the face from a corner you would as an outsider expect the least: the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Their message to Khamenei was on their website exactly two hours after his sermon and was loud and clear: the Egyptian Revolution does not aim at founding an Islamic state like Iran.

Why, as a Supreme Leader, would you ventilate such bold statements when the facts, the relevant sources and the people involved immediately make you fall flat on your face? Also this time, the truth is that Khamenei was driven by fear in his Friday prayer sermon. In June 2009, it was the fear that without his approval, the Revolutionary Guards and the militias would not dare to shoot at those masses that caused him to act and stand and preach in spite of his painful prostate. Now, it is above all the fear that the determination, inventiveness and courage of the Egyptian people will inspire the citizens of Iran to regain their courage to populate the streets of Tehran and other places and put Khamenei once and for all in the dustbin of history, alongside Ben Ali and Mubarak.

Because if there is one sensible comparison that can be made, it is between the protesters in Egypt today and the Iranian Green Movement of 2009 – in their democratic motives, peaceful procedure and inventive use of social media. The fire might suddenly flare up again in the streets of Tehran, inspired by the struggle for democracy in Egypt.

Tehran Review
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