Throughout the centuries, history has been characterized by numerous discrepancies and contradictions, especially with regards to human behavior, whether individuals or groups, or states and empires. This behavior stemmed from instinctive motives that transformed over time into more complicated stimulants, taking on tribal, national, religious or sectarian aspects.
Alongside the movements and alterations of history, different means of interpreting and understanding it have come to the fore. These began as elementary approaches designed to maintain a sort of “knowledge balance”, and later on developed into independent sciences. These are the major social sciences that we know today, having branched out from philosophy, and they are still in the process of formation and evolution in line with human development.
Without trying to generalize too much, modern history indicates that movements of political Islam and their discourses are capable intellectually and organizationally of crossing political and sectarian divides with the aim of fulfilling the ultimate goal of securing power.
In the process of preparing for the Islamic revolution in Iran, theorists such as Ali Shariati seemed greatly influenced by some Arab religious reform movements, and we saw a significant degree of interaction between the two currents of political Islam, Sunni and Shiite. Here we can recall the role performed by Navvab Safavi and the influence exchanged between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Ali al-Tantawi’s memoirs. Furthermore, Talib al-Refa’ai, founder of the Iraqi Dawa Party, mediated extensively between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shiite movements of political Islam, as evidenced in the work published by the researcher Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun. Ruhollah Khomeini was strongly influenced by Abul Ala Maududi, who was also a great inspiration to Sayyed Qutb, as seen in his book “The Islamic Government”. Following the Iranian revolution’s success, Maududi then sought to be more like al-Khomeini as the exchange of influence continued.
The revolution against the Shah in Iran comprised a variety of liberals, left-wing parties, nationalists and religious groups. Yet following the success of the revolution, Khomeini managed to drive everyone else away and emerge victorious in all political conflicts, installing himself as the Supreme Guide in possession of all executive, legislative and judicial powers. Here it is important to recall what Iranian intellectual Mohsen Dicor said: “the Iranian revolution was not a religious Islamic one, rather it was a national one in which hundreds of people from the liberal current, the national front and the left-wing participated. None of those who participated in it, even the clergymen in the initial days following the revolution, expected to gain the upper hand in power.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 13th February 2009)
The Iranian Supreme Guide smartly used all tools of political struggle at the right historical moment. By prompting people to fear the return of the Shah regime and its remnants, the Guide managed to repress some of his opponents, and likewise he also exploited the successes of his adherent Islamic Republican Party in parliament, whereby he could use it to do anything he wanted. Later on, not only did Khomeini secure the power to draft a new constitution, but he also redrafted the very concept itself. In summary, he managed to ride all waves, slogans and trends until he was ultimately declared the Supreme Guide of the state at the expense of everyone else.
Here a comparison is emerging, for what is happening in Egypt today is similar in many ways to what happened yesterday in Iran. A keen observer would certainly notice that the Muslim Brotherhood are behaving in a similar manner; prompting people to fear the previous regime. Although the Brotherhood had stated earlier that they would not dominate the parliament, they subsequently secured the majority through their Freedom and Justice Party. They even sought to redraft the constitution on their own, yet the state of affairs in Egypt and its contemporary circumstances did not help them fulfill their objective. As a result, once again they tried to ride all available waves including the revolutionary youths, the losing candidates, and the nationalist and ideological trends. At a later stage, they will offer all kinds of interpretations and explanations regarding the concepts and slogans they have used to climb to the top.
The principles of the Iranian revolution, whether currents, concepts or ideas, were all shifted easily to the advantage of the Supreme Guide, and something similar is happening in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood are trying their best to invade the judicial authority and intervene in its affairs by all means possible. They are also seeking to infiltrate the army and win it over. If the news about their recent visits to Turkey to bring the Turkish experiment to Egypt is indeed correct – although the Brotherhood once rejected Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements about secularism, then perhaps the most significant thing they want to take from the Turkish experiment is its ability to neutralize the army. The Brotherhood have already begun to court the army by calling for a 400 percent increase in military salaries.
Abulhassan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in an interview with al-Jazira television, recalled that Khomeini had once asked his clergymen to encourage electoral fraud in their Friday sermons. Having told him that this was unacceptable, Khomeini replied that the people must not have power, this should rest with the Mullahs alone. Khomeini had come to power through the people in all their different guises, but he then turned his back on them. This went on to become the customary approach in Iran, as during the Green Revolution in 2009, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei said that he “would not give in to the street.”
The Shah, at the end of his era, wondered how all the country’s intellectuals, who were educated in Iran and abroad, could really support Khomeini. Was this really possible? Ehsan Naraghi answered him by suggesting that Khomeini had put himself forward as a symbol for all. (Ehsan Naraghi, From Palace to prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution, 1994)
Revolutions require symbols, and Khomeini was just that for the Iranian revolution. All currents were unanimous in their support for him before he managed to eliminate them all from power. In Egypt, however, all the protests and demonstrations lack a political symbol with the charisma of a leader, and a comprehensive vision of the true state of affairs and the future. This confusion has produced a presidential battle a between a former military figure who once served as a minister [Ahmed Shafik], and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate who adopts a religious trend [Mohammed Mursi], even if he calls it a “civil state with an Islamic frame of reference”.
Some historical experiences can repeat themselves one way or another. The existence of similarities, when so close, ultimately gives way to comparisons, and an understanding of the past helps towards exploring the future.
Whoever the presidential winner in Egypt is, he will face great challenges in building the state and relations with the countries of the region and the world. He will have to face difficult situations and take bitter and unpopular decisions.