In a small hall in the building of the British Parliament, a group of Egyptian and British intellectuals and politicians gathered to discuss events in Egypt. The common feature among the Egyptian participants was that they were almost all liberals, or consider themselves to be part of the liberal movement.
Everyone has been worried about the future of Egypt when the largest and oldest political Islamic group managed to impose its presence and control on political life. It won the presidential elections, and in a sudden move, it challenged the judiciary, army and society as a whole when it tried to complete the acquisition of the state through the abolition of the Supreme Constitutional Court decision and restore the dissolved parliament. It is a battle that is still ongoing until the writing of this article.
It was against this backdrop that the discussion was taking place in that room. The Egyptians were divided into two: one group says it should give the new president and his bloc an opportunity, and the liberals should cooperate with him especially since this group has not had an opportunity before, while the other part thinks that there is no chance for liberals under the rule of Islamic political forces, and the solution is for liberals and Egyptian civil forces to gather their people and form a powerful and real nucleus to preserve the civil state, and not fall into the trap of wasting their time talking about giving the new president an opportunity and to cooperate with him.
When the debate intensified, a 60-year-old-man asked for his turn to speak and introduced himself as an Iranian intellectual who has been living in Britain for more than 30 years - the oldness of the Iranian revolution. The man pointed to another room, saying that once in that room, a discussion was held and he was one of the participants; a discussion that was very similar to the one they are having, but the only difference is that it was more than 30 years ago between several Iranian intellectuals. Khomeini had just returned to Iran to lead the revolution and many liberals thought that it was possible to cooperate with the religious forces, especially since both parties participated in the revolution, and that the Iranian leftists initiated it and then the clerics followed. The man added that if he had an audio recording of their dialogue and compared it with the debate today, they would have been identical. Then he asked: “Look, where we are now. Where is Iran?” Silence prevailed in the hall, and everybody seemed to be imagining the scene that the man had provoked regarding what happened in Iran.
The first protesters in the Iranian revolution were from the urban middle class. Most of them belonged to the liberal belt, or at least they were not part of the religious political opposition. Their demands were characterized by building a constitutional monarchy, not an Islamic republic.
In the first phase, clerics were able to put up with the leftist and liberals opposition. At that time, Khomeini avoided pointing out the controversial issues such as the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists” (Wilayat al-Fakih) and other issues that could have caused a collision with these forces. It went that way until the victorious Khomeini returned from Paris to Tehran in the first of February 1979 to begin a new phase of relationship with the Iranian liberal and civil forces that were allied to him even before his arrival from Paris. He started his first steps by overthrowing the Prime Minister “Shahpur Bakhtiar” and appointing “Mehdi Bazargan”. He considered that this new government is the “government of God” and warned of disobedience, because it would be a “disobedience to God” he said.
Some soldiers started to defect and join him while others refused, so he declared jihad against opposition militants who did not surrender to him. The anti-Khomeini forces collapsed when the military council announced its retreat from the political conflict arena on February 11 of the same year, which made Khomeini take the decision. Khomeini who had once said during his exile: “The clerics do not want to rule” became later on - in accordance with the Constitution that he had put - the Supreme Leader of the Revolution and the country's president for life. The Iranians agreed in their moment of ecstasy on the Constitution and handed over the leadership of their country to the clerics and it lasted until this day.
The Iranian man spoke about his sorrowful experience to the Egyptians and left them in a puzzled state.
The writer is a former head of news of state TV in Egypt. This article was published in Al Masry al-Youm on July 12, 2012.