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Feb. 11 marks the 32nd anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran. The uprising had a broad base — communists, liberal democrats and Islamists all played a role. But in the end, well-organized religious forces prevailed, and Aytatollah Khomeini and a succession of clerics became Iran’s supreme leaders. Three decades ago, the Iranian revolution was a beacon to Muslims around the world — a vivid example of how oppressed people could determine their own future. Today, the revolution lies in ruins. Iran, the second-largest Middle East nation after Egypt, is an economic and political disaster, with a corrupt and brutal pariah regime betraying a rich civilization. Now, Iran’s leaders – along with some regional analysts – are saying that Egypt’s uprising will produce an Islamic republic in Iran’s image. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, wrote last week, “All the demands and slogans [in Egypt] are in complete congruence with the teachings of [Iran’s] Islamic revolution.” But such assertions get the story precisely backward. Rather than the Iranian revolution of 1979 inspiring Egyptians, the Egyptian revolution of 2011 is inspiring Iranians — and may re-ignite the Green Movement that emerged after the presidential election 20 months ago. The truth is that Egyptians, like other Muslims, have watched Iran’s mullahs, its Revolutionary Guard, and its demagogic president deny citizens basic liberties and squander the treasury on support for terrorists and nuclear adventure. At a time when it should be profiting from high oil prices as the world’s fourth-largest producer, Iran is suffering from 15% unemployment and 12% inflation. Egyptians also viewed with horror the bloody repression of freedom advocates in Tehran, widely broadcast on Arab satellite television. So the real story is that Egyptians don’t want to be Iran, but Iranians want to be Egypt — if Egyptians succeed in building a free, pluralistic society. Similarly, a key inspiration for Egyptians, Tunisians, and Yemenis over the past month was the Green Movement itself. “The Egyptians in the streets are looking at the Iran of 2009, not 1979,” said Joshua Muravchik, author of The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East, in an interview on “Ideas in Action,” the weekly program that I moderate on public television stations around the country. Muravchik added, “If you went on the Internet” during the 2009 Iranian uprising, “again and again, there were Egyptian young people saying, ‘Why are we so lame?’” In January, that condition suddenly changed, and Iranian dissidents are looking to their Egyptian counterparts with admiration. The resolution of the Egyptian uprising is still in doubt, but a virtuous circle may be developing, with Iran ’09 helping to create Egypt ’11, which may help create Iran ’11 or ‘12, and so on…. A second guest on the “Ideas in Action” program was Mohsen Sazegara, a leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution who repelled by the clerical regime’s abuses, switched sides, was imprisoned, and escaped to the United States. “We implemented those ideas” – the principles of an authoritarian Islamic government – “and they didn’t work,” he said. And the failures are evident. “Even Muslim activists now say, ‘We are not another Khomeini. We are just fighting for freedom.’” Sazegara, now a Visiting Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, said that, until a few years ago, most of the Muslim Middle East seemed to have only two choices: military dictatorship or religious dictatorship. “Now,” he said, “there is a third way – a movement for democracy and a free society.” This third way manifested itself in the Green Movement, he said. “Many of my Arab friends were astonished. These are Iranians fighting with Revolutionary Guards and mullahs.” In the past year, Iran’s police state, in a counterattack, has managed to thwart street demonstrations. But Sazegara says that Iranian dissidents are exhilarated by the recent events in Arab nations, and possible in Egypt may serve to re-start the Green Movement, whose members are beginning to develop other means of opposition, including strikes. Muravchik, points out that in 1848 there were 50 revolutions in one year, and we may be living through a similar period. Over the past 30 years, freedom has replaced authoritarianism in dozens of nations in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Iraq has achieved democracy with outside help, but – with the exception of Iraq, where the democracy was established only after U.S. intervention to overthrow a dictator — “this part of the world has largely been left behind…. Now, a spark has been ignited in the Middle East.” Asked on “Ideas in Action” to predict the outcome of the Iranian uprising that began in 1979, Muravchik, who is also a fellow at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, replied, “I am very confident that the Green Movement will prevail…. Iran is the most ripe for democracy of all the countries in the region.”
James K. Glassman is the Founding Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute and the interim Director of the Military Service Initiative.
He served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from June 2008 to January 2009, leading the government-wide international strategic communications effort. Among his accomplishments at the State Department was bringing new Internet technology to bear on outreach efforts, an approach he christened “Public Diplomacy 2.0.”
From June 2007 to June 2008, Glassman was chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). He directed all non-military, taxpayer-funded U.S. international broadcasting, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Alhurra TV. Glassman was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., from 1996 to 2008, specializing in economics and technology.
He has been moderator of three weekly television programs: Ideas in Action and TechnoPolitics on PBS and Capital Gang Sunday on CNN.
Glassman has had a long career as a journalist and publisher. He served as president of Atlantic Monthly, publisher of the New Republic, executive vice president of U.S. News & World Report, and editor and co-owner of Roll Call, the Congressional newspaper. Between 1993 and 2004, he was a columnist for the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune and continues to write regularly for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Forbes. Shortly after graduating from college, he started Figaro, a weekly newspaper in New Orleans. His articles on finance, economics, and foreign policy have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and various other publications.
Glassman has written three books on investing, and in April 2012 was appointed to the Investor Advisory Committee of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He was formerly a member of the Policy Advisory Board of Intel Corporation and a senior advisor to AT&T Corporation and SAP America, Inc.Full Bio