Iran: an Egyptian Perspective


Commentary on Iran’s election fallout from the greater Middle East has been eerily absent for the past eleven days. The wait-and-see posture has been adopted by the region’s leaders and civil groups alike; respectively they are nervous and hopeful. Just as Iran’s 1979 revolution reverberated throughout the region, a democratic one today would inspire students and activists in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I reached out to an Egyptian friend and pro-democracy writer, Khalil Al-anani for his thoughts on Iran’s political crisis and the repercussions for the rest of the region.
On the nature of Iran’s crisis…
“First, I would say that this crisis is mainly between Ali Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani over the post of Fakih (Islamic Jurist), not between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. Of course the fuel of the current resistance is youth and reformists but the question is: Is this conflict targeting “wilayat al faqih” theory and the need to develop and change it or a political one targeting the authorities of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad? I would say the goal is mainly political even it takes a religious shape.”
Will the turmoil have a lasting impact on Iran?
“I think that this crisis is a turning point in Iran and the region, not only because it’s the first real challenge since 1979, but also because its consequences for the Islamist movements in the Middle East. Now, what will be the solution? There are two possible outcomes: either Khamenei will have to call for another election or Rafsanjani will have to eliminate and diminish Khamenei authorities. And between both of these two scenarios, there is a possibility to give Mousavi a significant post in the hierarchy of the regime.”
What does this mean for Egypt?
“For Egypt, I would say that we are a more open society than Iran and we have more freedom of expression. Egypt might witness something like what’s happening now in Iran within the next five years or less. We have similar economic, social, and demographic situations.”
I’m intrigued by Khalil’s insinuation that what we’ve witnessed over the past eleven days is just the beginning of momentous changes for the region. Perhaps he is right that Iran’s politics will change significantly moving forward and maybe Egypt will follow suit in the near future. But, the only wise thing for us to do is watch this drama, dare I say revolution, unfold before our eyes and hope for the best.
— Faith Smith


17 comments on “Iran: an Egyptian Perspective

  1. David says:

    Thanks for including the map of the region. I benefit greatly from just stopping and looking at that map.


  2. Don Bacon says:

    Let’s keep in mind:
    * Egypt (where the Shah’s body is interred) and Iran are mortal enemies.
    * Obama has seriously tilted toward Egypt. The NED expenditures for democracy in Egypt, for example, are being given directly to Mubarak the dictator.


  3. Carroll says:

    The system won’t let me put but so many links in a post hence this follow up.
    There are 7 dead giveaways in these two Rasmussen reports that scream US and Israeli neo right wing spin and wouldn’t make it pass a freshman Propaganda 101 class. I am sure you can find them.
    81% Say Palestinians Must Recognize Israel’s Right To Exist As Part of Any
    Peace Agreement
    If Israel Attacks Iran, 49% Say U.S. Should Help


  4. Caroll says:

    Mythbusting alert for wiggie.
    Rasmussen’s polls are notoriously slanted towards the GOP and conservatives.
    … –
    The Plum LineGreg Sargent’s blog
    More Slanted Polling Presentations From Rasmussen?
    “A number of writers have raised questions about Rassmussen Reports polling, arguing that the firm games its poll questions and presents its results in a way designed to gain maximum pick-up by the conservative media. See Josh Marshall, Matthew Yglesias, and Dave Weigel for more on


  5. JohnH says:

    “Egypt might witness something like what’s happening now in Iran within the next five years or less. We have similar economic, social, and demographic situations.” –Khalil Al-anani
    Would the TWN blog be filled with breathless commentary about Egyptians protesting in the streets for the overthrow of their reprehensible regime? Hard to say, but I doubt it.
    After all, official Washington likes most of the tyrants in the region. Only the ineffective or anti-American ones deserve any attention at all!


  6. Don Bacon says:

    The idea that Obama represents good and his rivals, evil, is amusing. Obama represents only himself, not any greater good. He believes, politically, in nothing. His only bedrock philosophy is fence-sitting and compromising. But like his enemies have told him (on Iran), you can’t compromise with evil.
    He has told us where he ‘stands.’ Or sits, rather. Obama’s DKos diary posting from 2005:
    “…According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists – a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog – we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in “appeasing” the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.
    “I think this perspective misreads the American people….”


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Obama has been poked and pressed and pushed, and has compromised himself into a corner on the board. It is time for him to break out. This is it: it’s now or never”
    Too late, three strikes and you’re out. Watching Obama indignantly pontificate about the oppressed Iranian protesters was painful, as it was such a glaring display of the double standard I have been “ranting” about this last week.
    You are right, Dan, Netanyahu has spat right in Obama’s face, a fact I pointed out long ago when Obama’s “demands” were met with such cavalier dismissiveness by the Israeli camp.
    But worse even than Netanyahu’s casual dismissal of Obama’s stance on the settlements was Lieberman’s obscene arrogance, standing right next to an American Secretary Of State, whom he had just met with, and declaring that Israel would not concede on the settlement issue. To my knowledge, and to my memory, such arrogance and diplomatic rudeness is unprecedented after immediately following a meeting with an American Secretary of State.
    The mistake here is placing conditions on Israel to move a peace plan forward. The tactic, as applied, defies all common sense. First, the Obama stands mute as Israel fries Palestinians in white phosphorous. Then, Obama throws Freman under the AIPAC freight train. Next, Congress votes to actually INCREASE “aid” to Israel. Then, the Administration completely ignores the brutal field lobotomy of an American citizen gunned down while engaged in peaceful protest.
    And now Obama wants to place conditions on Israel to move a peace plan forward? Simultaneous with this insipid cowardly little jackass Harry Reid demanding the President “tone down” his criticisms of Israel?
    We are placing the “conditions” on the wrong issue. We need to place the “conditions” on THE MONEY and the MILITARY SUPPORT. Israel doesn’t give a shit about the peace process. They don’t want peace, they want to eradicate the Palestinian people, through stealing land or outright extermination. And we are financing it. CUT OFF THE FUNDS. It is the only language Israel will understand.
    And it ain’t going to happen, as this mewling cowardly little peace of shit Harry Reid just clearly demonstrated.
    So Obama, as he just demonstrated by his more “forceful” tone on the Iran situation, will simply posture and play to whatever stance is expedient, and faithfully follow whatever script is hanmded to him. This isn’t a reading of the future based on a guess, it is a logical conclusion based on a reading of the past. The man is a total dissappointment, the complete and utter political opportunist, a fraud, who will say or do anything to stay in the favor of the Washington establishment, the American citizentry be damned. How many times does he have to prove it before “the audacity of hope” gets rightfully replaced by “the wisdom of anger” in the face of such betrayal?


  8. samuelburke says:

    u.s president asks israel to cease constructions as he tries to quell the violence in the middle east…israeli leaders defy united states president plea.
    stay tuned i am sure the nightly news in the u.s will be all over this one right, well at least the msm will they are very pro obama right.
    or maybe they will let israel blatantly do this to their beloved leader…or will they answer to a higher authority.
    Barak authorizes construction of 300 new homes in West Bank
    By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent
    Tags: Israel News, Ehud Barak
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank, defying U.S. calls for a halt to settlement growth.
    Activists for Bimkom association, which works for justice and human rights in planning and knows a thing or two about the situation in the territories, have discovered that Barak recently authorized the Civil Administration to submit a plan for the construction of 300 housing units in the unauthorized outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the community of Talmon.
    U.S. President Barack Obama has pressed Israel to halt settlement activity as part of a bid to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.


  9. Slaney Black says:

    For Egypt, I would say that we are a more open
    society than Iran and we have more freedom of


  10. samuelburke says:

    on another humanitarian issue there is this….at our favorite superheros hangout.
    Outraged Demonstrators Demand ‘Collective Punishment’ for 1.5 Million Gazans
    Jason Ditz, June 23, 2009
    As the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip struggle to rebuild their society with mud in the face of a crippling official blockade by the Israeli government, hundreds of Israeli protesters arrived at the border today to block what little humanitarian aid the government deigns to allow in, forcing the military to close the crossings entirely for much of the day.
    “There is no other way but collective punishment,” one of the demonstrators declared, but in the face of 1.5 million civilians living in the bombed out remains of their society in the wake of January’s Israeli invasion being deprived of humanitarian aid, it seems unfathomable that the international focus will be on a soldier being held to trade for some of the thousands of Gazans held in Israeli detention.
    Of the 73 trucks expected to cart humanitarian aid into the strip, only seven were allowed in.


  11. Dan Kervick says:

    Is the Iran crisis Obama’s Bay of Pigs? Has he been out-maneuvered by the beltway power elite who are out to humiliate and weaken him, trash his agenda and force him into an obedient posture? Not yet, but the situation for him is very dangerous. He hasn’t been checkmated, but he is now confined in a small region of the board and faces a succession of checks. In such a situation, one needs to move away from the slow, patient game and start to conceive bolder, more ingenious, and riskier moves. Obama needs to break out of his present tendencies toward gradualism, elite stakeholder consensus and difference-splitting, and start to think more boldly and more creatively. Above all, he needs to start making moves that are rapid, dramatic and unpredictable, and put his opponents back on their heels.
    The bipartisan old guard is now moving against him, even apparently inside his own administration – as Steve has hinted. The major status quo stakeholders at home and abroad are working to re-assert their prerogatives. These guys play for keeps, and believe Obama is just a young pup who just needs to be trained properly. If Obama doesn’t start to act more energetically and aggressively, and in some cases ruthlessly, whatever remains of his hopes for change will be buried under defeat and cynicism.
    Obama appears, with the benefit of hindsight, to have made a tactical mistake in delaying the rollout of his Middle East peace plan in favor of elaborate and drawn-out stage-setting via thematic speeches. The delayed timing of all this was apparently determined by the Iranian election. The idea, I take it, was that the shape of the ultimate plan would be contingent on the result of the election, so it was necessary to wait until June. The election would be clarifying, pointing toward one direction or another. But the way the election has turned out – with a crisis instead of clarity – has upset all those plans. It doesn’t matter whether the “green revolution” was cleverly sparked and planned by covert operatives, or instead just seized upon opportunistically. The result is the same: enemies of Obama’s Cairo approach and agenda are trying to pull all the supports away from the policy that was emerging, and force Obama’s hand back toward the beltway consensus of the last two administrations. That consensus leads to the continued occupation, subjugation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine, under the protective draping of unending and unproductive peace process rhetoric, and the cynical manufacture of perpetually deferred and ultimately idle hopes.
    I wrote many times that Obama needed to speak much more sharply and prescriptively about the Arab-Israeli conflict, to define its terms, define the problem and define the shape of an acceptable solution. Instead, he has *still* not formally advanced a peace plan, and has confined himself to a call for confidence-building measures. Netanyahu called his bluff and has spit right in his face, calculating that Obama won’t dare to slap Netanyahu down, and that the spectacle of weakness would rapidly destroy international and US congressional confidence in Obama’s capacity. The administration even had to endure the humiliation of an official visit by the odious Avigdor Lieberman, smiling and nodding politely during the lectures by this two-bit, fascistic bouncer. And now Netanyahu is trying to capitalize on the Iran crisis to erect impenetrable rhetorical barriers against further Washington pressure. For how can Obama lean on Israel while at the same time he declines to lean on Iran?
    So what can Obama do?
    First, he must realize and accept that he is a young, outsider President who has no established power base among the elites. He has also surrounded himself by a “team of rivals” – in other words, a lot of people who are not necessarily on his side. But Obama does have real sources of power, so long as he does not isolate himself inside the White House and beltway bubble and forget what those sources of power are. His power has always resided in his capacity to make a compelling direct appeal to people and get a lot of them on his side. That’s how he won the nomination and outmaneuvered the most powerful Democratic political machine of this era. So Obama has to reach out over the heads of the beltway insiders and Middle East power poohbahs in that direction of ordinary people – that is, in the direction of ordinary Americans, ordinary Arabs, ordinary Iranians, and ordinary Israeli liberals. The Iran crisis has changed everything in a dramatic way, and Obama’s reaction to it must be just as dramatic
    Obama should seize the day and boldly reformulate his Middle East policy around a new, people-powered freedom agenda. He should combine a new, tougher line against the Iranian regime with an *equally* tough line against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and more assertive criticisms of Middle East autocracies and military toughs. He can grab and pull on the rope his Republican and Democratic critics are handing him to hang themselves, by giving them much of what they have been calling for in Iran, but then boldly taking it in a further direction they wouldn’t go in themselves.
    The Iranian people and the Palestinian people, he can point, out are only two peoples in the region who have been pressed under the thumbs of militarily powerful oppressors. The same is true of millions of Arabs living under autocratic and despotic regimes. The same is also true of genuinely peace-loving Israeli non-combatants who endure not legitimate armed resistance against occupation, but illegal terrorist violence. For the sake of his survival and the survival of all the hopes invested in him, Obama has no choice now but to tilt away from the Iranian regime *and* the Saudi regime*and* the Egyptian regime *and* the Syrian regime *and* the Israeli regime, and to tilt toward all of the PEOPLE in the region who have a common cause in undermining and throwing off the whole oppressive, tyrannical mess. He can do the same at home by forgetting about pleasing the bankers and insurance company execs and other stakeholders in the existing order. He can seize this moment to harness the awakened energies of young people at home and abroad, invest in their capacity to network themselves into a new global power, and rekindle the promises of hope and change that vaulted him to power, but which have been buried so far on the depressing compromises and pragmatism brought on in large part by the exigencies of the financial crisis.
    And he should fire at least one person, somebody major, just to show who is boss.
    Obama can’t win playing the inside game. He doesn’t come to the table with enough cards to play in that game. But he has a lot of cards to play if he expands the size of the table, and gives all of the onlookers a seat. He can only do that while he still enjoys good will and sympathy. If he waits longer, the usual resentments, despair and cynicism will set in around the world, and his only real source of power will dry up.
    Obama has been poked and pressed and pushed, and has compromised himself into a corner on the board. It is time for him to break out. This is it: it’s now or never.


  12. Don Bacon says:

    The poll results are due to the fact that many of the US public actually believe President Obama when he says that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and is a threat to the US. Some people never learn!


  13. WigWag says:

    From the “that’s interesting department:”
    I can you can call it the Obama Effect
    Rasmussen Reports
    Tuesday, June 23, 2009
    Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans say that if Israel attacks Iran because of the latter’s continuing development of nuclear weapons, the United States should help Israel. 37% believe the United States should do nothing while just 2% believe the U.S. should help Iran.
    Last summer, just 42% said the United States should help Israel while 46% said the nation should do nothing


  14. David says:

    “Like any smart proprietor, Steve understands the importance of keeping the customers satisfied.”
    My personal guess, WigWag: he doesn’t give a shit whether or not readers of TWN are satified. In fact, I suspect quite the opposite. Anyone looking merely to be satisfied by what he or she reads ain’t looking. Correct me if I misinterpreted your intent.
    And I for one am not annoyed by Bibi, I am appalled. He’s a smooth-talking zealot who would reduce the Middle East to a spectacular conflagration if he were given free rein to do whatever the hell he wanted “on behalf of Israel.” The quicker Bibi is re-retired, the better for everyone: Israel, Palestine, the United States, the Greater Middle East – you name it.


  15. Don Bacon says:

    Well, like the US, they openly torture — does that count?


  16. Peter Principle says:

    “For Egypt, I would say that we are a more open society than Iran and we have more freedom of expression.”
    LOL. That was a good one. I guess we can think of it as Al-anani’s stay-out-jail card.


  17. WigWag says:

    Faith Smith is right, the consequences of the Iran imbroglio for the broader Middle East is very interesting. During his presentation to the panel yesterday, Steve Clemons alluded to this when he couldn’t resist the urge to mention the dreaded Netanyahu and his appearance on “Meet the Press.” My guess is that he was hoping to throw a little red meat to all those Washington Note readers annoyed with his views on Iran. Like any smart proprietor, Steve understands the importance of keeping the customers satisfied.
    Steve’s mention of the Israelis got me thinking about how the Iran imbroglio would affect the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I think the most likely impact of conflict in Iran will be on relations between Hamas and Fatah.
    While I think reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is largely irrelevant to facilitating a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, those like Steve Clemons, the earnest but clueless Daniel Levy and the smart but self-mutilating, Stephen Walt who view it as a prerequisite for success should be delighted by the geopolitical consequences of the turmoil in Iran. The Iran imbroglio has made reconciliation between the two warring Palestinian parties far more likely.
    It has been an extraordinarily bad year for Hamas. In January they were defeated militarily by the Israeli invasion of Gaza which depleted the weapons they used in their resistance effort. They were lobbing hundreds of rockets a month at Israel before the invasion of Gaza; now at best they’re able to lob a few a month. With their rockets shut down and their suicide bombers locked in the prison of Gaza (a prison of their own making) their feeble resistance efforts have been crippled.
    Moreover their goal of opening Gaza to the free flow of civilian goods and military hardware has failed. Not only have the Israelis locked down Gaza more ferociously than ever, so have their Arab brethren in Egypt.
    If Tom Friedman is to be believed, the popularity of Hamas in Gaza has fallen dramatically in the past few months. According to his sources, Fatah would trounce Hamas in an election in Gaza.
    In the West Bank, Fatah forces are growing stronger and are arresting Hamas fighters at will. Scores of Hamas fighters have been killed in clashes with Fatah in the past few months and several hundred more have been arrested. Politically Hamas may retain some viability in the West Bank but militarily they’re a spent force. Abbas just announced that he’s releasing some of the Hamas fighters that had been arrested as a show of anger at the United States for not halting the expansion of Israeli settlements. The take home message is that in the West Bank, Hamas is at the mercy of Fatah.
    Earlier this month Hamas witnessed their ideological soul mates in resistance, Hezbollah, defeated in an election that just about everyone predicted they would win. Rejected virtually unanimously be the Sunni, Druze and Christians in Lebanon, the Hezbollah led coalition failed to capture any more parliamentary seats than it had previously. What the Shia in Hezbollah and the Sunni in Hamas share is a culture of resistance to Israel. In Lebanon, that culture was rejected in humiliating fashion.
    And now, the civil war in Iran has dramatically weakened Hamas’ major patron. If Mousavi prevails he will have been placed in power by a movement interested in reconciliation with the West and largely disinterested in the Israel-Palestine conflict. If Ahmadenijad prevails he will stand at the head of a government that’s been crippled, lacks legitimacy and is preoccupied with internal reconciliation. The ability and the motivation to assist Hamas in its mission against Israel will have taken a strong hit.
    All of this means that a chastened Hamas may have little choice but to acquiesce to a coalition government with a resurgent Fatah even on humiliating terms. There’s little doubt that if a coalition government is formed Salam Fayyad will be the Prime Minister and Abbas will be calling most of the shots not Mashaal or the increasingly irrelevant Haniyeh.
    Regardless of how anyone feels about the importance of a Fatah- Hamas coalition to the peace process, it is remarkable how consistently wrong some people can be. The same people who warned us that the separation barrier would never succeed at stopping suicide bombing (suicide bombings have dwindled from a few a day to a few a year at most) or that the invasion of Gaza would never inhibit Palestinian resistance (rocket attacks have dwindled from scores a day to a few a month) are the same people who insist that a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement is critical.
    Well, thanks to the Iran imbroglio these people may get their wish. It’s ironic that many of them don’t understand that the conflict in Iran which they regret is what may enable better relations between Fatah and Hamas which they support.


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