Egypt and Iran: why different outcomes?

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Ramadan 23, 1434 2013-08-01


by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 6, Ramadan, 1434)

In Egypt the Ikhwan failed within one year while in Iran, the Islamic movement has established a government that is still in place and going strong. Why? The Ikhwan made the mistake of working within the system while Imam Khomeini understood that the existing system had to be demolished.

Egypt and Iran are two very important countries. Developments in either affect the entire region. Consider the military coup against the elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Mursi. Despite his faults — and there were many — the manner in which the US-Zionist-aligned military overthrew Mursi’s government raises serious concerns among Muslims and even non-Muslims that believe in respecting people’s rights and how power is exercised. The July 3rd military coup has taken Egypt back to square one. In fact, the old jahili system was never abolished. The ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 was merely cosmetic since remnants of the old regime remained fully entrenched in all major institutions: the military, police, interior ministry and the judiciary, to name a few. These remnants had the full backing of the business class, which had been the principal beneficiary of the old system.

In this column we repeatedly questioned the Ikhwan’s wisdom of operating within the old system. It was also unrealistic to assume that just because the Freedom and Justice Party, political wing of the Ikhwan, won the election that it would be allowed to implement its policies freely. Mursi and by extension the Ikhwan’s approach was flawed on many counts — not the least of which was to work within the old system. No luxury class in any society has ever given up its privileges voluntarily. These have to be taken away, by force if necessary, to ensure fairness and justice in society.

Let us compare this with Iran. On August 4, Dr. Hassan Rohani will be sworn in as president of Iran after his victory in the June 14 elections. Unlike Egypt, there is no threat of a military coup against Dr. Rohani, despite the fact that Iran’s military is arguably stronger than Egypt’s. How has Iran become coup-proof while Egypt like almost every other Muslim country suffers at the hands of the military?

The Islamic movement in Iran led by Imam Khomeini clearly understood the nature of the imposed order in society. The Imam was absolutely clear: the Shah and all the institutions he had built were illegitimate and had to be uprooted. Nor did the Imam overlook the fact that such measures would arouse the wrath of the imperialist powers that would attempt to undermine the Islamic Revolution and the fledgling Islamic State. Thus, the masses had to be prepared for the long hard struggle ahead, as the Prophet (pbuh) had done in Makkah and Madinah. The Imam purged the military of the corrupt top brass and put them on trial for crimes against the Iranian people. Concurrently, the Sepah was established as a revolutionary force that prevented the military from carrying out a coup. Iran’s military was deployed to its primary function: defence of the borders, not to lord over people’s representatives.

In Egypt on the other hand, the Ikhwan and Mursi assumed that if they played within the existing system and surrendered to US-Zionist interests, they would be allowed to complete their term in office. The haste with which the military overthrew Mursi surprised even seasoned observers. It was assumed that the military would allow sufficient time for Mursi to fail — he was set up to fail by the entrenched old guard — and people would automatically turn against him. This would have happened had he been given enough time but it seems Egypt’s imperialist and Zionist masters got impatient and decided to strike.

This brings us to the question of clarity of thought in the Islamic movement. Most leaders of Islamic movements fail to analyze the socio-economic and political order in society properly. They assume that there is nothing wrong with the prevailing system; and all that is needed is for good, honest men to run it more efficiently. Events in Egypt have once again exposed the fallacy of such thinking and the price the Ikhwan have had to pay. This scenario will no doubt repeat itself in every Muslim society where such faulty thinking prevails. True leadership sets a directional course, and inspires and guides people toward achieving it. When the collective energies of even a small number of ordinary people are harnessed for the achievement of a pre-set goal, the results are often spectacular. This is what the Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) teaches us.

When even highly qualified people fail to take account of these simple facts, they end up paying a heavy price. This explains why the Ikhwan have failed in Egypt and why the Islamic movement succeeded in Iran. If Muslims care to reflect, they would easily understand this basic point.

Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought

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