As I post this, Mubarek has just resigned.
The remarkable diversity of Egyptian people seen in Tahrir Square recently speaks to the deep-seated roots of discontent across all sections of society. A letter from Tarek Swelin, (Egyptian, western-educated historian) who was in Tahrir Square on January 25th, describes “intellectuals, young professionals, people from Al-Azhar, people from Upper Egypt, Aswan, and many more Christians, Muslims, people of all ages, representatives of political parties, celebrities, and people from all walks of life. Moreover, members of the ‘Ikhwan’ – the Muslim Brotherhood party – were there, but most importantly all were Egyptians together.”
Reading about the profound unrest in Egypt, I think back to the Iranian revolution of 1979. I lived in Iran from 1974 until 1977 and traveled extensively, from the lush Caspian Sea to the great stairways of Persepolis, to the rose gardens of Shiraz and the splendid
mosques of Isfahan. Everywhere I got glimpses of the beauty of that country, the depth of its people and richness of its history and its literature. I lived in an old summer house with a beautiful garden, small fountain and high walls in the north of Tehran. Power blackouts were daily occurrences in the summer of ’77, and we never quite knew when they would occur, so each day was an adventure, increasing the unrest and discontent. The poor and the dispossessed throughout Tehran, but especially in the south of the city, increasingly looked to the Mullahs and Mosques for food as well as spiritual sustenance, and their anger against the Shah was palpable. Many Iranians, the young, old, laborers, farmers, students, intellectuals, writers, and artists wanted what the Egyptians now demand: Change, Freedom, and Social Justice.
But I believe today’s events have a closer parallel in the uprisings of 2009 in Iran after the re-election of Ahmadinajad. Again born of frustration, and with many of the same issues felt so acutely by the Egyptians, Iranians showed their anger with the government in the time honored way–by taking to the streets and protesting, giving voice to their rage against unemployment, the lack of any real prospects, the rising cost of food and fuel, inflation and the lack of social freedoms. In both cases, the government deployed well-trained, armed thugs, using clubs and all manner of improvised weapons to confront and quell the protesters and staunch the flow of the people’s demands for a democratically elected government. The anger was also because Iranians had the vote but their votes were rendered meaningless, and what started as an outpouring of anger turned into a battle for the soul of a nation.
A book I read recently gives excellent insights into Iran in the years leading up to the 2009 election riots and how many Iranians are faring under an Islamic government. Based on his personal experiences of living and traveling in Iran as a journalist, Hooman Majd’s book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ – The paradox of Modern Iran, speaks of life and the “intricacies of the politics” in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The grandson of an eminent Ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, Hooman Majd travelled across Iran from the desert city of Yazd to the holy city of Qum, talking to every section of society, gathering opinions and issues from cab drivers to clerics. He offers deep and nuanced insights into that country and its people. All of which gives us food for thought as we watch another country on the brink of great changes.