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Will the Egyptian Revolution Also Devour Its Young?

Posted on Feb 18, 2011
AP / Lefteris Pitarakis

An Egyptian protester flashes the V-sign as riot police use water cannons against protesters in Cairo in the early days of the uprising.

(Page 2)

But events were moving too fast. The French government, always attuned to the changing political winds, yielded to Ghotbzadeh’s entreaties and allowed Khomeini to go to Paris.

By December 1978, it was obvious that the shah was out. Ghotbzadeh was exultant as we entered a fine restaurant for lunch in Paris. He was immediately recognized by the maitre d’ and escorted to the best table. The now 39-year-old dissident, who for years had traveled about from one Western capital to another, staying in shabby hotels, attempting to interest reporters and politicians with his apparently forlorn cause, representing an Iranian cleric none had even heard of, was now appearing on everyone’s TV screen. He was one of the key spokesmen for the bearded ayatollah, whose image was now recognized around the world. They were on the brink of power. The shah’s rapid collapse had amazed everyone, including the opposition.

In a few days they would fly to Tehran, Ghotbzadeh told me with supreme confidence. Khomeini would be the new guard’s spiritual leader, but the real source of government, he assured me, would be Western-educated reformers like himself.

I raised the question of the world’s great revolutions and how they all seemed to follow the same dynamic—from the French to the American to the Russian. How they all seemed to arrive at some terror, how they devoured their young before they subsided and the political pendulum gradually swung back to center. “How will you avoid being devoured?” I asked Ghotbzadeh, only half in jest. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We know what we’re doing.”


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That’s, of course, not the way it worked out. The revolution became increasingly chaotic, increasingly radicalized, as competing parties and factions struggled violently for power, particularly after the American hostages were taken. Ghotbzadeh maneuvered desperately, trying to stay on the political tightrope—head of Iranian TV, ultimately foreign minister.

He helped us get an exclusive interview with Khomeini after the hostages were taken. Nine months later, in December 1980, with the hostages still being held, we returned to Iran. War had broken out with Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded, quietly encouraged by the United States.

We interviewed Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an economist turned president who was totally out of his element. The war had even further radicalized politics in Iran, and Bani-Sadr had become a virtual prisoner in his own presidential palace. The Imam Khomeini had thrown in his lot with the Islamic radicals. The Western-educated revolutionaries such as Bani-Sadr and Ghotbzadeh had been thrust to the side.

In a Kafkaesque interview, Bani-Sadr talked frankly of the mounting wave of torture and repression under what in theory was his own government. He condemned the road the revolution seemed to be taking. Shortly afterward he fled for his life to become an exile in Paris.

Ghotbzadeh chose a different fate. A few months before our visit he had been thrown in prison, charged with conspiring against the regime. It was only Khomeini’s personal intervention that saved him.

Ghotbzadeh was released, and ordered by the imam to go home, stay there and stop his plotting.

Our last evening in Tehran in December 1980, Wallace and I went over to Ghotbzadeh’s spacious residence. He greeted us with a wan smile. He was blunt in his criticism of Khomeini and the way in which the revolution had been perverted from the goals that Western-educated Iranians had hoped it would take. “The imam,” said Ghotbzadeh, “had promised us before the shah fell that, once the revolution had won, he would go back to the holy city of Qom and give us occasional spiritual guidance. But the real job of government would be left to us. But he misled us. Once he tasted power, he liked it. We were betrayed.”

It was obvious Ghotbzadeh was ignoring Khomeini’s stern warning to stop conspiring. Several people were there, some of them mullahs, others with the bearing of military officers. They talked softly in small groups. Occasionally one came over to speak in Farsi with Ghotbzadeh. Yet Ghotbzadeh was still optimistic about the future, he said as we left. It was after midnight. The others remained.

Ghotbzadeh was rearrested a few months later and charged with attempting to overthrow the Islamic government in order to establish a secular republic. Though at his trial he denied the accusation, he was also charged with planning to assassinate the Imam Khomeini, the man he helped bring to power.

On Sept. 21, 1982, at Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, Ghotbzadeh was placed before a wall and executed, shot through the neck.

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By gerard, February 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment

After Ming the Merciless it’s hard to pull the covers off your head and get up and face another day.
Nevertheless, after a strong cup of coffee it is necessary to get to work here again:
  According to articles in Forbes and on Counterpunch website, before the uprising a number of young people went to Serbia to study nonviolent principles and strategies at an institute in Serbia, taught by people with experience in ousting Melosovic.  Nonviolence was deliberately advocated and used throughout the Egyptian demonstration. Further, the communal good nature and natural mutual helpfulness of the Egyptian themselves was largely responsible for success so far. Bloggers from the site described things frequently using words like “brilliant” and “uplifting as ever” and the words “peaceful, peaceful” were often heard.
  Nothing is certain.  Every day is new territory.
But it’s worth hoping, after all the weapons-makers’ inducements to kill and maim, human beings can find other more effective ways to maintain their right to live in peace.  (Google nonviolence or nonviolent resistance for much more.  See “Politics of Nonviolence” website.))

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By Ming the Merciless, February 19, 2011 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment

The troubles in Egypt are a careful take over by the Ikhwan(al qaeda) and it is the same thing in Venezuela.
The baboon Chavez is practically a Jihadi and is turning his country over to the Salafis:

The leftard’s stupidity is indeed monumental!!!

I will see that treasonous buffoon Obama swing in the breeze!

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By moonraven, February 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment

gerard, I agree.

Venezuela is an important example.

In 1992 Hugo Chavez led a failed coup against the corrupt and murderous government of Carlos Andres Perez (who recently died in the lap of luxury in Miami and whose assets were requested to be frozen).

Chavez spent 2 years in prison, was pardoned by Rafael Caldera and in 1998 was elected to the presidency.  His government has been in power for 12 years during which time, despite numerous attempts at coups and assassination financed by YOUR tax dollars, poverty has been cut by more than half, illiteracy eliminated, the GINI coefficient has dopped from almost 0.50 (where the US and Mexico are now) to just over 0.40 and a long list of positive etceteras.

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By Barry Wiseamn, February 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm Link to this comment
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I am a little amazed that poor Sadegh Ghotbzadeh did not know how the game of “leader,  leader who wants to be leader” was being played as the CIA laid forth their plans to establish, not him, but their long time CIA asset the Ayatollah Khomeini in power. But then I can remember the Shah of Iran was just as duped when he was overthrown.  I can remember him bitterly complaining about the CIA when he had finally learned that they had disposed of him just as they had Mohammad Mossedegh in 1953 when he was the democratically elected Premier of Iran.  Ironically both the Shah and Mossedegh made the mistake of trying to force the British and the Rothschilds to give their people a break in their looting of their country’s oil, the former in 1951, the latter in 1980. 

These coloured revolutions, Rose, Green, Saffron, or Orange or any other color that are spreading all across Eurasia and the Middle East are all American born and bred, despite what the naive students protesters may think, and anyone who does not know that now should be kindly advised to stop playing the game until they learn all its rules. The first rule being that the Americans are everywhere that there are riches to be stolen,the second that they follow no rules.

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By vote, February 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm Link to this comment

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to compare a non-violent revolution to other non-violent revolutions?  Has anybody asked how what’s happening today compares to Canada gaining independence?
  How about the likelihood of a peaceful revolution in current times versus long ago?
  Why is it that we think people in other countries couldn’t possibly do as good a job of running their countries as we do running their country for them?
  My prediction:  The result will not live up to the utopian expectations of people who confuse ideals as being a destination rather than a direction.

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By gerard, February 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment

The widely general, habituated reluctance to place faith in the possible success of nonviolent change causes professional commentators to predict failure,  just to be sure to be on the “right” side.  However—nonviolence is more likely to succeed in establishing democratic governments than violence simply because by its very nature it is nonaggressive, nonpunitive, nondictatorial. There’s no guarantee, but there is room for hope.

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By JDmysticDJ, February 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm Link to this comment

“Egypt in February 2011 is not Iran in January 1979, and those darkly predicting that Egypt’s revolution is fated to turn into another Islamic dictatorship are ignoring the many stark differences between the two situations. But…”

But what, Ghobtzadeh? Mr. Lando will need Glen Beck’s chalkboard in order to make a comparison between Egypt in 2011, and Iran in 1979. Ghobtzadeh was the most moderate Iranian voice heard on ABC News’s nightly news program, “America Held Hostage, day 1 thru day whatever,” but even Ghobtzadeh was not as moderate as the Muslim Brothers in Egypt have become. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt represents a minority of Egypt’s population.

There can be no significant comparison between the Iranian Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution. BP, Frank Wisner’s father, and Eisenhower’s CIA did not have the democratically elected head of Egypt assassinated, and install a Shaw. Radical Egyptian students did not invade the U.S. Embassy, parade hostages around in blindfolds, and obtain CIA documents proving CIA complicity with an installed monarch. There is no Lenin like Ayatollah in waiting, who has been propagandizing the Egyptian people for decades. The former head of Egypt’s security police has not escaped to the West and written a book about the many perversities of Mubarak, and on and on…

The divide between Muslim culture and Western culture is an immense chasm. Some repressive Muslim cultures insist that women wear the burka, others insist that women keep their heads covered, while some Western cultures prohibit both, declaring those cultural practices to be inflammatory. Sexual promiscuity in Muslim cultures is severely punished, while in the West any teen with access to the internet can view the worst kinds of pornography. One could go on and on about the differences between the two cultures, but it seems clear that Egypt is headed towards a point somewhere between the two extremes of culture.

Hands off Egypt; let the Egyptian people decide. They want democracy, butt out, and let that democracy develope, regardless of how messy that development might be.

I’m not sure if Mr. Lando is warning us, or just trying to impress us with his prestigious, irrelevant, historical experience.

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By anonymous, February 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment
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This is so vague in its analysis of the contending parties in the Iranian revolution as to be practically useless. Revolutionary terror isn’t about gastronomy—will the young be devoured?  From the outset the secular and left Islamic forces failed to recognize that Khomeini intended to suppress them under theocratic rule.  He should have been stopped, not eaten. 

The revolutionaries in Egypt face an utterly different situation at this time.  After having gotten Mubarak out of the way, sections of the military and some factions in the economic elite are in a position to utilize the revolutionary movement to simply extend their own economic and political control. It is crucial that the revolutionaries disrupt the loyalty of lower ranking officers and troops to limit or nullify the army’s power. If they can do this, it is quite possible that a progressive government could form, especially in as much as Egypt faces no external pressure, a factor that was crucial in shaping the other revolutions—the French, the Russian—that seem to support the gastronomic silliness, and also played some role in the Iranian revolution, in as much as fears of the US and Iraq helped to rationalize centralizing force.

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