Today is the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. That anniversary is overshadowed, though, by the jubilant celebration in Egypt.
Notably, the Egyptian military played a central role in the successful culmination of 18 days of mostly peaceful demonstrations by the Egyptian people. Here’s hoping that 32 years from now Egypt has much to be proud of — a flourishing democracy, the political participation of all its citizenry, and a professional military separate and apart from the nation’s governing institutions.
Unfortunately, Iran has not achieved such a stellar record of accomplishment. And the Iranian military, to many, is a large part of the problem. In fact, some analysts have begun to describe Iran as a praetorian state. Whatever the label, it’s certainly not a participatory democracy.
Even though it’s way too early for comparisons, it’s worth taking a look back at the role that Iran’s military played in their revolution. There are some similarities with Egypt’s military today. Notably, the army served notice that it would not fire on Iranian civilians. The army also said that it would not support a regime that insisted on attacking its citizenry. But unlike Egypt’s military today, Iran’s military did not always speak with a singular voice.
In Iran, problems with the armed forces emerged in the fall of 1978 with the first act of sabotage in the army, the explosion of a helicopter in Isfahan on October 10. Afterwards, insubordination and desertions became more common.
Misagh Parsa states:
A clandestine army report indicated that by December 7 — exactly one month after the military government had been installed — a total of 5,434 army personnel, mostly low-ranking enlisted men, had defected from thirty-one garrisons . . . . Soldiers from the Isfahan artillery unit publicly declared on December 5 that when they accepted their commissions they had sworn to defend the nation and its people, not kill civilians. They announced their refusal to support a regime engaged in massacring its own citizens and pledged instead to support Ayatollah Khomeini. To those still deceived by the Shah, they issued a warning that soon the regime’s associates would be put on trial.
Demonstrating air force cadets were arrested in Isfahan on January 27. They were joined by the homofars who had worked closely with the American community at Khatami Air Base. The culmination of this dissent occurred at the outset of the “three glorious days” of the revolution — February 9, 1979 — when air force cadets and the homofars provoked a
punitive attack by 50 to 200 of the Imperial Guards stationed at Dawshan Tappeh Base in eastern Tehran. Fighting continued around the air force barracks until early Saturday afternoon when the Homafaran seized 2000 rifles and distributed them to the people. By then arms were being distributed in the mosques of Tehran, and special phone numbers for calling to receive arms were posted on placards. Meanwhile, Isfahan had fallen into the hands of Khomeini supporters.
Certainly, the actions of the homofars were unfathomable to the American engineers and technicians who had worked with them in Isfahan. Just as confusing was the extent to which US policy was blamed for the shah’s downfall.
The revolution in Egypt, in contrast, has not been about US policy, the $1.3 billion yearly in US military assistance, or US weapon systems. Intstead, it’s all about the Egyptian people.
Kudos to the very professional Egyptian military, to their refusal to fire on their countrymen, and to their aspirations for a peaceful and successful democratic transition!
The journey ahead will be challenging and full of pitfalls. May the military live up to its promise to lift the Emergency Law, and honor its pledge to shepherd its nation to free and fair elections.
As for the Egyptian people — may the road rise up to meet them, and may the wind be always at their back!