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February 15, 2011

Iran Expert: Iran's 1979 Revolution is a Cautionary Tale

Professor Abbas Milani, who is director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution, and author of the book The Shah, warns that what just happened in Egypt is "eerily reminiscent of the events in Iran in 1979." In a long interview with Michael Totten on Feb. 1, Milani compares the two, describing how a revolution for democracy brought about a brutal theocracy:

... I knew [the Islamists] were bad news. I knew that what they were going to deliver was not democracy. But most people had never read any of Khomeini’s writings because they were banned....Even those who were willing, like me, to actually read this stuff, we dismissed it because we were under the Age of Enlightenment illusion that religion is the opiate of the masses and that there is an inverse correlation between reason and science on the one hand and religion on the other. We believed that Iran was too advanced for these ideas.

He explains further on today's edition of NPR's "Morning Edition":

They [the clerics] began to take over initially by Khomeini returning to very jubilant celebrations, delivered a very tough message and said "I would punch this government in the nose"...He said I will appoint a new government, and he appointed a very soft-spoken, liberal figure to be head of the transitional, provisional government of Iran, and the cabinet that he introduced was not at all a clerical regime. Immediately, of course, Khomeini appointed for each of these ministries his own representatives. So you had virtually from moment one, kind of a dual power: the government officially in charge of the ministry but the clergy representing Khomeini meddling in every affair, learning the ropes, learning what they could take over, which happened about a year after the revolution....

...[Khomeini] had talked about [a theocracy] in many of his earlier writings, but In '79...he realized what the people of Iran want is democracy. That's why he hid his intention...

Although in Egypt "there is no charismatic leader like Khomeini who could take over this movement," Milani acknowledges, "there is the Muslim Brotherhood" which is "well-organized and has deep roots in Egyptian society..." And while the Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to distance themselves from Khomeini and insists that what happened in Egypt is not an Islamic revolution but a democratic revolution, Milani does not believe them. Listen to the interview here.

Posted by RH at February 15, 2011 10:07 AM


I think the situation in Egypt is different since there are more than one opposition leader who opposed the former president so the power will not be put in the hands of a single person.

Posted by: Julie Kinnear at February 19, 2011 04:46 PM

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