Egypt would do well to heed lessons from Iran’s 1979 revolution

Rod Mamudi writes: Some revolutions mutate into war machines, like the the French. Others, by the defiance they represent, provoke war, like the American. Others have conflict visited upon them.

On 22 September 1980, within 18 months of the declaration of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded its nascent neighbour. The result was eight years of war, the most extensive use of chemical weaponry in several generations, and hundreds of thousands dead.

Less easily quantified is the effect the war had on the Islamic revolution. Certainly before the invasion there was little to suggest the revolution would enjoy anything like the longevity it has. In November 1979, the interim government of Mehdi Bazargan had resigned in opposition to the taking of the US embassy hostages.

An attempt to impose Islamic dress for women in March 1980 had sparked widespread protest, eventually leading to a humiliating climbdown for the government. Another such rule was promulgated in July, but this time only for government employees.

The Islamic republic’s first president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, was falling into increasing conflict with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the Islamisation of universities was being widely challenged. Upward of 1,000 executions had taken place, to increasing outrage. The factions that had achieved revolutionary victory were splintering.

Then the war came. Islamic dress for women was imposed universally the following summer. Bani Sadr was impeached, and all political parties bar the Khomeini-ist Islamic Republican party banned. By the end of 1981, the political leadership that would see out the war had been established: Ali Khamenei as president, Mir Hossein Mousavi as prime minister. Senior clerics who challenged the revolution were stripped of their rank. Executions ran into the tens of thousands. But now there were others to mourn.

The immediate effect of war was twofold: it distracted from the regime’s consolidation and draconian exercise of power; and it provided a rally-around-the-flag effect, which the regime further exploited to facilitate its liquidation of the opposition en masse.

But the most pervasive effect would reveal itself over the course of the war. For all the power such ideas exercise, there are no tombs of the unknown Marxist, or the unknown liberal. These are political schools for the living. The warrior is different. From London to Rome, Arlington to Buenos Aires, Osaka to Baghdad, nations mourn and honour their war dead in a way to which only religion compares. [Continue reading…]

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