As the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsy has claimed victory in the presidential election, observers have begun to draw parallels between the current state of Egypt’s democratic transition and that of 1979 Iran.
Today, the Egyptian political scene has never looked more bipolar: Citizens alternated between outbursts of joy and a pessimistic sense of tragedy as preliminary results indicated a near-certain victory for Morsy, confirmed by final results announced on June 23
In an early victory speech on June 17 at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, Morsy’s tone was conciliatory. He promised to be the president for all Egyptians, including those who voted for Shafik and the Coptic Christian minority. Taking a non-confrontational stance, he pledged to cooperate with “all lovers of peace in this world.” While thousands rallied in Tahrir Square to cheer the victory of the first democratically elected civilian president in 60 years, others fear that Morsy’s victory will merely replace one form of authoritarianism with another.
The fanfare surrounding Morsy’s victory has echoed the enthusiasm with which Iranian revolutionaries welcomed Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran on February 1, 1979. The crowd of several million waiting at the airport was so overwhelming that Khomeini had to be taken to his hotel by helicopter. Khomeini was now not only the undisputed leader of the revolution, but also possessed ’semi-divine‘ status.  
In a bizarre coincidence, Hosni Mubarak stepped down on the very same calendar day of the final collapse of the provisional non-Islamist government of Iran: February 11. On this day, revolutionaries took over the Shah’s palaces and government facilities, while the military declared its neutrality and quietly watched the regime fall. 
The historical parallels go deeper than timing. The uprising in Iran, as was the case in Egypt, lacked many of the obvious catalysts for a revolution: defeat at war or an acute financial crisis. That said, causal factors in the January 25 uprising did include structural inequality, as well as a disgruntled military. Both revolutions produced profound change at breakneck speed, were massively popular, and overthrew westernized dictatorships. Now, the question which remains is whether or not Egypt’s revolution will follow in Iran’s footsteps by empowering a theocratic dictatorship. Iran’s Islamic state was based on Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (known as welayat-e faqih). Will the new Egypt be similarly governed by the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau? The following points of comparison shed light on Egypt’s trajectory relative to Iran’s:
Repression by Neo-Patrimonial Regimes
Both the governments of former Iranian ruler Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak can be described as neo-patrimonial dictatorships, in which political opposition was aggressively sidelined. Both regimes were propped up by foreign military assistance and technical support. In Iran’s case, aid came from the US and Great Britain, while in Egypt’s case, it came from the US. This flow of aid made both regimes accountable to foreign powers, rather than to their own people, fueling resentment and eventually popular uprisings. 
Complacency of the Elite
In both Egypt and Iran, neo-patrimonial dictatorships were able to neutralize and control the elite opposition by provoking discord within this group. The elite in Iran and Egypt were rendered passive bystanders at the time of the revolution, unable to assume a leadership role. This trend was particularly evident in the Egyptian revolution, where the army’s declared support for the Egyptian people at the outset of the uprising filled the political vacuum and crowded out the liberal elite who might otherwise have assumed a leadership role in driving the transition. 
Economic Growth and the Political Gridlock
In both Egypt and Iran, authoritarian regimes promoted relatively successful economic reforms, but failed to liberalize the political process at the same rate. Economic growth was distorted by crony capitalism in which the benefits of economic liberalization never trickled down to the middle and working classes. Coupled with corruption and repression, citizens became increasingly frustrated with economic inequality and political injustice within a growing middle class. Educated Egyptians and Iranians in white-collar jobs were experiencing an unprecedented level of political consciousness and felt entitled to a share in the country’s economic growth as well as the political process – making this demographic especially prone to mobilization in the uprisings in 1979 and 2012.
The US and its Support for Democratic Change in the Region
Both Iran’s Shah and Egypt’s Mubarak were supported by Democratic presidents of the U.S. namely, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. In fact, Washington provided all forms of support to both neo-patrimonial leaders in terms of weapons and funds. At the same time, both US presidents expressed concern over the status of human rights, political freedom and the process of democratization in Iran and Egypt. Carter and Obama came to power after long periods of Republican reign, synonymous with years of American pragmatism and interference. Therefore, the new team in the White House insisted on a return to fundamentals, supporting democracy and human rights in their foreign policy and restoring the U.S.’s image, particularly in the eyes of the Middle Eastern nations through the application of soft power. When popular uprisings against the Shah and Mubarak became evident, the U.S. called on those leaders to take actions toward the democratization of their nations.   
Five days before the fall of Mubarak’s regime, Obama clearly stated that Washington supported the demands of the Egyptian people and that Mubarak must transfer power as soon as possible. 
The Islamic Revolution of Iran provided an important political precedent for Egypt’s revolutionary movement, enabling it to achieve its most important success – the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime – in a shorter period of time, and at a much lower cost. The Muslim Brotherhood were quick on their feet, and knew well how to win in all spheres of influence; appearing at and hosting major business conferences, presenting the ’Renaissance Project‘ to a wide audience; vowing to implement the revolution’s goals of ’Bread, Dignity, Freedom‘;  and winning majority seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament. They were also able to turn their own struggle in the presidential campaign into a struggle for the revolution. They secured many achievements in just 17 months, while the Iranian revolution took more time and faced more resistance.  
Where is Egypt headed?
In terms of the outcomes of the two revolutions, the case of Iran sheds light on Egypt’s likely trajectory. After Khomeini’s return, Iran was thrust into revolutionary crisis mode. The economy and state institutions collapsed, while the country’s military and security forces were in disarray. Khomeini and his supporters had crushed the rival factions, defeated local rebellions and consolidated power. What began as a broad-based popular revolution against dictatorship was soon hijacked by Khomeini’s charismatic leadership, and transformed into an Islamic fundamentalist power-grab. After months of leaderless political turmoil under military rule, Morsy’s victory may now serve as a rallying point for Egyptians seeking direction at time of disarray. While Morsy lacks the charisma of Khomeini, he has a window of opportunity to leverage the religious legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood to push Egypt toward an Islamic model of government.
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