Revolutions, Now and Then

Posted: February 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Not a few analysts have already connected the revolutionary dots between Egypt now and Iran over thirty years ago. In both cases strong armed military regimes were in control, their leaders exerting an iron grip on power through their repressive policies and actions. Then the Shah was unseated in revolutionary Iran. Now Mubarak was dislodged as the result of a pan-Northern Africa movement toward some mixture of democracy and/or Islamic governance.

The parallels, as regard the involvement of the United States, are strikingly similar. In both cases, with the Shah and Mubarak, our relationship of state was defined by mutual benefit. In the case of Iran, oil and resources were more than a little of the story. With Egypt, the geopolitics of the region have  determined our support of Mubarak; stability in Egypt spells peace with Israel and the broader Middle East.

What does American leadership do when it finds itself on the wrong side of a democracy movement? Whether it is the  Shah or Mubarak’s regime, a people’s movement arises to defy it, demanding that dictators, totalitarian rulers and oligarchs be tossed from their thrones. But it just so happens that we have lent support to these very same dictators, totalitarian rulers and oligarchs that have given us what we’ve wanted. What to do?

Well, if you’re the U.S. State department, you tap dance. You say that you hope these things are resolved peacefully. You council the government to not send in the tanks. You distance yourself from the leader so that when he skips town you’re not perceived as too cozy. So the game is played. Mubarak? Oh, yeah, we used to be friends a long time ago …

The problem now for Egypt is larger than it seems. It’s one thing to cast off a repressive government and its leader. It’s quite another to build something that serves the common good. And, considering developments in the Middle East, I’m guessing we’re not going to be witnessing the birth of some Jeffersonian democracy. The Cold War is long over so it’s not going to be some warmed over version of communism. They most certainly won’t go the way of the Saudis with an Islamic Monarchy.

No, this  may go the way of other nation-states in the region toward an Islamic theocracy. If so, and that is very possible, the outcome could lean either way, toward a moderate form or a radicalized one. This is a huge concern for Israel. It’s a huge concern for the whole region and the world.

It’s hard to know who your friends should be. If you support the neighborhood bully, a repressive lid keeps things under control – even though some of our most treasured values of freedom and democracy are abandoned. But if you really extend democratic freedoms – such as Israel did in Gaza, for instance – the decisions people make are often not what you would choose.

Now is a time for real prayer, for thoughtful and moderate religious voices to rise and seek a peaceful and life-giving way forward for Egypt. We can hope that the social contract of their people will be shaped less by strident voices and more by democratic ones. And in the end, as a part of the community of nations, we can hope with a new kind of friendship – not with the town bully, but with some representative form of government that helps to create a new destiny for their people.

And now, with a benevolent concern for all, we pray especially for the Coptic Christians in Egypt. They come from the most ancient roots of the Christian tree, a small religious minority in Egypt. May they remain faithful, reflect the way of Jesus, and become leaven in the lump.

  1. Good Friend, Chet McKeen (Army General, Ret.), brought an interesting perspective to Iran of the 70s … since he was there. I share with his permission …

    I was in Iran throughout the ’79 revolution and I can tell you for sure that it was completely different from the one in Egypt. In Iran the Muslim clerics ran the whole thing and Khomeini ran the show from Paris. using the BBC as his communication channel. There was a headquarters in Ghom where they had a Mullah school and some real Goons, or enforcers. The omnipresent minarets were used to communicate with the people. Every demonstration was staged and any opposition was put down by the Goons. The Army rode around town with flowers stuck in their rifle barrels, probably the result of Carter telling the Military to lay off. I saw it first hand as I was trying to get 2000 Americans out of there It was a simple power struggle between the Shah, who had cancer, and a very vindictive Khomeini, whom the Shah had sent into exile in 1954. .

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