To understand what lead Iranians to dispose of the Shah, what grievances triggered the cultural revolution, Operation Ajax, in which Prime minister Mosaddegh was disposed and imprisoned must be examined, albeit briefly.
The whole kerfuffle began in 1951 after Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now known as BP oil) backed by the British government, refused to re-negotiate the royalty payment to Iran. In response, the Iranian parliament allowed for the nationalization of the petroleum industry. When newly appointed Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh attempted to negotiate with the British government, they refused and actually began planning to dispose the current Iranian government. The Royal navy was also ordered by the British government to create a blockade to prevent Iran from nationalizing its petroleum. Once relations with the British were at a point of no return, America was forced into a tricky situation where they had to support their key ally. While the Eisenhower administration was at the White House, the British had convinced their counterparts to a joint coup d’état. After the coup d’état, the CIA and M16 assisted the Shah in creating a secret service that ensured complete authoritative control. That is an extremely brief background on the pre-revolution era.
One of the Cultural Revolution’s key grievances was the overthrowing of a democratically elected government. The blunt act of imperialism, in which the British government first refused to properly negotiate with the Iranian government and then go onto appoint the Shah as the supreme leader, was a slap on the face. The Shah was a tyrannical ruler, imprisoning, beating, killing all that opposed his rule, and Iranian’s just watched as the American government through the CIA funded and supported his government.
Iranian’s had not forgotten foreign intervention; especially considering Iran was now dependent on these governments. Referring back to a previous post on Iranian nationalism, there is a key reason this revolution is properly known as a Cultural Revolution, as this was a movement that was deeply embedded in racial and nationalistic sentiments with a religious undertone.
Iran was, and is the only Shia and Persian dominated nation in the region. There has always been a sense of loneliness on the part of Iran, especially as adherents of Shia Islam believe that since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Caliphate has been in the wrong hands and that the legitimate heirs to Islam were the Imams (descendents of the Ali, cousin of the Prophet) and the Ayatollahs. Adding to this sense of being wronged, the Persians are also a race of cultural and historical wealth. They also feel wronged since the Arab Muslim invaders conquered the Sassanid Empire and imposed Islam on the region. Hence, Persian’s as a community have had two previous grievances; with Sunni Islam and with uncultured Arab ‘barbarians’. This sense of victimhood confined in the notion of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ was only perpetuated with the American backed coup d’état. Hence, Ayatollah Khomeini states that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the Shah) was a traitor, not because he took power from his people, but because “…he suppressed (our) culture, annihilated people and destroyed all our manpower (and) resources’ (i.e. Privatized jobs and the petroleum industry for the benefit of foreign powers).
The Ayatollah goes on to state that:
This government represents a regime, whose leader and his father were illegally in power. This government is therefore illegal. The deputies appointed to work in the Majlis (party) are there illegally. The Majlis itself and the Senate are illegal. How can anyone appointed by the Shah be legal?
Similarities with the issue of the government's legitimacy, just as was the issue of the Caliphate, is no doubt obvious in the ideological mindset of the Ayatollah and also amongst many Iranians. It is of course due to this fact, amongst many that the people allowed the Ayatollah to become their spokesperson - he promoted a religious nationalistic sentiment, which I call a pseudo-nationalistic sentiment (since Islam clearly forbids nationalism), attempting to combine all the Iranian past and present grievances into one.
This in itself is one explanation as to why the Iranian people allowed the Ayatollah to control the government and create his own majlis. In comparison to the Egyptian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, there are very few similarities.
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of many large opposition groups in Egypt, but is widely supported and very effective on the grassroot levels. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928, in order to function as a da’wa association (religious outreach), which quickly became an anti-monarchial party. During Nasser’s era it radicalized and became militant. By 1972, the Brotherhood began to move away from their initial stance (once held during Nasser’s era), renounced violence and eventually joined the political fold.
The primary difference between the Brotherhood and Ayatollah’s party was the acceptance of the system in power. When the Brotherhood was radicalized, it was much more similar to its Iranian counterpart, as it also disapproved of the current political system. But the Brotherhood accepted the political due process by partaking in these elections, whereas in Iran however, the government was always illegitimate to the people. In Egypt this was different - it is clearly displayed by the actions of the Brotherhood, who renounced violence in order to socially and politically counter the monoculture. Egyptians were frustrated that the Mubarak regime had put American and Israeli interests before them, however that was not their main concern. The lack of freedom, the constant fear from the Interior Ministry’s goons and high rate of unemployment were no doubt the catalysts for the protests. Egyptians also - at one point - believed that Mubarak was ‘one of them,' and fully admit that they allowed him to take control; stability over governance. The Egyptians unlike their Iranian counterparts accepted the regime.
Working within the system naturally changed the role of the Brotherhood within the greater community. After going into the system in order to ‘fix’ it,' it was the Brotherhood movement that eventually underwent reform. Elected members were now partaking in dialogue with all members of society; secular Arabs, nationalists, and of course the government itself.
Wickham notes that the Islamists and the Arabists found a common ground, together in promoting freedom of religion, democracy and human rights for all citizens. This eventually led to internal reform as well. Such a phenomena has only come about because the Brotherhood accepted its place within the system and hence was able to influence citizens more effectively - totally opposite of what took place in Iran.
Therefore, it seems that the Iranian people wanted anything but the Shah in power because they were so dissatisfied with his rule, and with the introduction of the Ayatollah, already a prominent religious leader, the people were willing to group around him. There is no single figure similar to the Ayatollah in Egypt. Al-Azhar university has lost its authority by siding with the government on more than one occasion, whereas many religious figures in Saudi Arabia have been critical of the revolution. The closest religious leader is Sheykh Qaradawi in Qatar who has been banned from going back to Egypt.
However, even he does not hold as much sway, as the people themselves do. Western media outlets attempted to cast El-Baradei as the figurehead of the protests, but even he admits that the choice is with the people, and clearly he is not the leader. This revolution to me at first was very similar to the French Revolution as it could very easily have lead to complete anarchy, credit to the not only the opposition groups but the youth themselves for keeping everything as organized as possible.
The narrative in Iran of the antagonistic United States is still very prominent, at least with the higher echelons of the religious movement. "The situations in Egypt and Tunisia show Islamic awareness that will lead to "irreparable defeat" for the United States," according to Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei. But the fact is that both the West and Iran have lost the plot: This revolution is about Egypt and their struggle for freedom from an oppressive ruler, not about a clash of civilizations.
This time it seems that the people will not give up until a progressive and stable government is not put in power. Though democracy is not the only solution in my opinion, it may be what is best for Egypt at the moment. One must remember, and I am speaking to the United States, any government in power must be backed fully ensuring that resentment similar to Iran does not creep up. Iran cannot be labeled as an antagonist, they are not as bad as the West wishes to portray them, but the Brotherhood has no similarities to the Ayatollah's movement in '79.