Counter-Revolutions and Evolutions: Lessons of Egypt and Iran

The world watched in awe as the people of Egypt rose up by the millions two years ago, a revolution that then led to elections putting the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt. Now the people rose again by the millions, but what their actions accomplished was to put in charge of their country a general who made clear decisions leading to over 1000 deaths, and many detained.

With the return of General Tohamy as head of the feared and Egyptian General Intelligence Service, we have come full circle. General Tohamy, as recent investigations reveal, was central to the old dictatorship's corrupt system and brutal enforcement.

We have witnessed a classic historical counter-revolution. In 1917 it was the people of Russia who lost control of a revolution instigated originally to serve their needs, same with 1979 in Iran, and the same with Egypt in 2013. This in no way implies that I favored the Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood government, for they too were undermining the ideals for which everyone took to the streets in Egypt. The Brotherhood's rise in power, however, was propped up by Qatar in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, and now Saudi Arabia have put the dictators back in power.

There are two lessons that emerge. 1. The proxy warfare of the Gulf--between rivals, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Iran--is destroying numerous countries and must be confronted as a major international priority of political intervention, conflict management, and political negotiations. 2. Revolution, as exciting and promising as it appears to be, is for the most part a bad idea. Popular demonstrations by themselves can do little if one's society is the plaything of regional powers. More importantly, with the vast majority of Egyptians poor and highly uneducated, there is far too much potential for populist ideological movements, such as the Brotherhood, to manipulate evolving democratic systems.

The alternative is evolution that requires the steadily increasing education of large portions of the population to what it is to nonviolently push a society ahead, but also what it is to responsibly move toward democracy. That requires a far greater percentage of the population to be educated enough to avoid manipulation by ideologues.

Compare this to the situation in the last 60 years in Iran. Iran, a highly advanced civilization, had more than enough of an educated elite to push for democratization by the early 1950's. But they were no match for the international powers, Great Britain and the United States, who quashed the democratic direction led by Mossadegh, and installed the Shah. Nevertheless, there was a slow and steady pace of advancement for Iranians in terms of education. By 1979 the people were ready to throw off the Shah, but unfortunately the vast majority were co-opted and/or manipulated by a religious ideological revolution that undid the ideals of the democratic revolution. The Iranian population did not have a broad enough base to push for political change that would lead to democracy. The Green Movement, decades later, also failed to capture a broad base across the country beyond Tehran.

Yet we now see that the Green Movement, and the slow and steady improvement in health and education of majorities and minorities across the country, is setting the stage for a steady pace of democratization that is far ahead of the rest of the Gulf and the Middle East. Iran has invested heavily in higher education and is set to grow enormously if the Supreme Leader recognizes the tides of history and allows President Rohani to open up the country more and more.

The prospects for Iran are far better than Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and many more neighbors, because there has been a steady evolutionary investment in basic needs such as health and education, with the exception of the irresponsible Ahmadinejad years. Iran's people are heading in the direction of an irreversible process of democratization, whereas the vast majority of inhabitants in other Gulf states have no rights whatsoever and the drug of choice is dictatorship.

Foreign policy makers in all the developed countries must absorb these lessons and examine their long-term rational interests, which are focused on stable evolution of basic human needs globally that produce democracies, not support for dictatorships, no matter how much oil they have. Every country with no exception must be induced into investment into their human capital, it is the only evolutionary way to a better future for all.