From Egypt to Iran?

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

With uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, the political landscape of the Middle East has seemingly changed overnight. Millions are marching for freedom and democratic government: some leaders are fleeing, others are fighting to stay in power. Can this unrest be traced to Iran's Green Movement of 2009 that was so violently suppressed, and will the spark of democracy find its way back to Iran?


Transcript

JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas in Action, a television series about ideas and their consequences. I'm Jim Glassman. This week: insurrection in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and throughout the Middle East. The uprisings come as Iran celebrates the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and while memories of the 2009 crackdown against the Green Movement are still fresh. What's behind these mass movements in the Middle East and will they inspire the Green Movement to rise once again?

Joining me to explore this topic are: Mohsen Sazegara, Iranian journalist and visiting fellow at the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University. He was a leader in Iran's revolution of 1979 and is now an activist in its pro-democracy movement;

Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and a prolific author on foreign affairs including his latest book, The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East.

The topic this week: uprisings in the Arab world, implications for Iran and the United States. This is Ideas in Action.

ANNOUNCER:

Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Mohsen, what is the main driver behind these mass movements and uprisings we're seeing now in the Middle East?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

I think it's democracy. Demand for freedom-- free election. And now is the time that the forkway that dictators like Hosni Mubarak has tried to draw for several years - they have said that there is only two ways in Middle East: military dictators, Islamism.  And Islamists had the power. Now there's a third way.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Of course, in Iran 32 years ago you-- you were there and you had a broad coalition that was in opposition to a dictatorship and what emerged was not a democracy.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

You know, 32 years ago we had a military dictator, he was the Shah of Iran, he came to power by a military coup in 1953. But the situation was quite different. All groups were united against Shah, but the main part of the movement against Shah were Islamists so they took the power. But last year in Iran, in the Green Movement of Iran, the middle class of Iran, many of the intellectuals, elites of the society, they united against Islamists in Iran and asked for free election, freedom of election, and democracy. So I think that that movement in Iran has inspired many of the Islamic nations in the whole region.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So what happened in the last-- 2009 is inspiring Arab countries?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

I think so.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Ok. Josh, what do you see as kind of core of these uprisings that have gone on in Arab countries?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

The Arab world, the Muslim Middle East, has been an outlier. If you take away the Muslim Middle East, more than 70% of the governments in the world today have been elected by their own people in legitimate, contested, free, and fair elections. And if you look at the Muslim Middle East, the number that have been elected by their own people is essentially zero. Except maybe Iraq-- you know with the U.S. military presence. So this part of the world has just been left behind but the world is very interpenetrated these days, particularly the younger generation with electronic media, they see what's going on everywhere else. And there's been a lot of talk about, 'Why not us too? Why can't we choose our own government?'

JIM GLASSMAN:

So Josh-- so it's almost as though the solidarity movement in Poland is at the root of what's happening in Egypt?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

Well, I wouldn't go that far because I think these things are very inflammable and they tend to spread but usually within regions. So if you think back to solidarity when it rose the second time in 1988, by the end of 1989 every communist government in Eastern Europe had been overthrown. If you think back to Latin America in the 70s there was a military dictatorship in almost every country and over the course of a series of years they were all-- except for Castro's Cuba --they were all overthrown. And you could go all the way back to 1848 in one year there were-- when people in Europe were first fighting for democracy there were 50 revolutions in one year. I think that a spark has been ignited in the Middle East, first in Iran-- it took a while but when the Iranian demonstrations were going on in 2009 if you went to the internet and to Facebook and so on, again and again there were Egyptian young people saying, 'Why are we so lame? How can the Iranians get out into the street and fight their dictator and we can't fight ours?'

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you know this is a connection that I don't think has been made very much in-- since Tunisia and Iran-- I'm sorry since Tunisia and Egypt-- this connection between Iran and Arab countries. Is Iran being affected? Is the Green Movement of which you are an integral part-- is that being affected by what's happened in Egypt?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

Definitely yes and these days I have several emails from young generation in Iran with big questions. They say that before Egypt they're asking about Tunisia. Because they say that 'Tunisia succeeded, why shouldn't we?' And as Josh said, you know, a young person in Iran thinks like an Egyptian young generation-- because of their new tools; internet, satellite TVs, many of them are good friends of themselves on Facebook.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But they don't speak the same language.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

They use English. I have seen several of them that they use English especially Diaspora-- the part of the movements who are outside the country, they have very close ties to each other and they try to learn from each other.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to go back to the Iranian revolution in 1979 because that was really-- was the biggest revolution in the Middle East-- the biggest popular uprising in the Middle East in our times. Do you think that what's going on in these Arab countries is more related to '79 or is it more related to '09 as far as Iran is concerned?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

I think decisively more to '09. There's been a big question mark hanging over Egypt through all political discourse for many years, which is: if the current regime were to fall, will the Muslim brothers take over? Is the alternative to Mubarak an Islamist Egypt?

JIM GLASSMAN:

And the Muslim brotherhood is-- just tell our viewers--

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

Well, they're sort of the original Islamist group founded in the 1920s and their slogan is 'Islam is the answer.' The answer to what? Well presumably to all political problems and in a sense, although there are different movements and the differences between Sunni and Shia but they were-- the Muslim brothers were really the originators of this idea of Islamic politics that were to a large extent borrowed by the Iranians. And people who followed Egypt have wondered about what is the real strength of the Muslim brothers. No one knew because it's all subterranean because there's been a dictatorship and there's been no free votes, there's no reliable public opinion polls and I think what we've seen just watching the demonstrations-- the anti Mubarak demonstrations-- is that the Muslim brothers have been there but they've been a very decided minority and they've been far outnumbered by people who are talking in clear terms, you know, not about an Islamic Egypt-- Islamist Egypt-- but about democracy and freedom. And, that's why I think the answer to your question is the Egyptians who are in the streets now are looking at Iran of 2009, they're not looking at Iran of 1979.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

Josh is right. You know, we learned from Muslim brotherhood--

JIM GLASSMAN:

You meaning--

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

I mean my generation in Islamic revolution. But what happened during the last 32 years we implemented those ideas in Iran, it didn't work. And now these-- go back to that mutual inter-- interrelations between these nations. Now if you look at the-- even Muslim activists in Islamic countries-- even them I mean, Rashid al-Ghannushi in Tunisia or Muslim brotherhood in Egypt they-- very simple they say that, 'We don't want to make another Islamic revolution, we don't want to make another Islamic Republic.'

JIM GLASSMAN:

So even they are saying that. And it's because, you're saying a big factor is the experience in Iran.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

Exactly.

JIM GLASSMAN:

That has not been particularly inspirational-- it may have been inspirational the overthrow of the Shah but what's happened since has not made anyone particularly excited about having that kind of regime.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

I think that not only the experience of those ideas in Iran failed but again I go back to '09, I go back to last year, everybody in Islamic countries saw that an Islamic regime is-- how brutal, how attacks to girls-- young girls-- boys on the streets and especially amongst the you know Arab satellite TVs they had very very good coverage about the events in Iran and this is the very simple reason that now even the Muslim activists they say at the first step they say, 'No we are not another Khomeini, we are not another Islamic revolution and we are just fighting for freedom.' I think that-- I have read some articles from the present Muslim brotherhood they have been changed as well; they have changed some of their ideas.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And is another change, Josh, the attractiveness of democracy? Could we even say that some of the people in Arab countries are looking at the newest Arab democracy, which is Iraq?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

I haven't seen signs of that, Jim. I was a supporter of the American invasion of Iraq. I hoped that we could turn Iraq into a democracy and that it would be a model for the region but I'd be very slow to say that-- that that succeeded. It may be that Iraq is increasingly becoming a democracy but the terrible hellish years that Iraq went through of endless violence in the street I think had a negative effect. I think in the region a lot of people looked at the chaos in Iraq and said, 'If that's democracy, I don't want that in my country.' So I don't think we can take Iraq as much of a model for what's going on in these other countries.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

Iraq is not a good example. It didn't happen by the hands of the people. There is nothing in Iraq to be learned by the other nations. That was U.S. and British troops invading Iraq and so what happened after that was terrible. But the general policy of the United States; that was a turn point I think. I remember that in those days I was in Iran in two different universities. In my speeches I said that, this is for the first time, we have the image of the United States as a government which supports the dictators, from 70s in Latin America or in the Middle East, supporting Shah, supporting Mubarak, supporting-- but for the first time, a president of the United States says, and Condoleezza Rice was in those days advisor of the National Security, they are insisting for new Middle East, new democracy for all countries and this is it. I said that I don't know what's the national benefit of the United States for such a policy but our national interest, which is democracy, is now in the same way with the United States. So we can push the dictators in the region.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And how important is this ideological point that Mohsen is making that the United States by promoting democracy is-- can have a real impact on countries in the Middle East that are-- where you've got people who are yearning for democracy? I mean do we-- can we really have an impact?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

Oh, I think the United States always has an impact. The fact is there are a lot of people who in the world who resent the United States, who blame the United States for a lot of their problems, but the United States is an enormous force in the world, it's the most powerful country. It's the wealthiest country and the American ideas are the ideas we're talking about-- democracy was thought of by a lot of different people but it was tried first in America and this is where it was proved that it could work, that you could have a successful, internally peaceful country governed in this way by the people voting. And even people who are angry at us around the world, in Egypt or other situations, you often see them in the streets saying, 'Why doesn't the United States support us more?' So obviously they care a lot about-- and I think if I can echo one point of Mohsen's, I think that the United States had a mixed record-- we had pushed democracy in Eastern Europe, in some periods we pushed it in Latin America, but never in the Middle East. There seemed to be a consensus that Middle East had to be ruled by Emirs or other kinds of dictators. Bush, whatever else he may have done right or wrong, he really made a dramatic break and said, 'No, that's wrong, we don't-- our interests aren't with these dictators, we want democracy in these countries too.' And remember he singled out Egypt in-- I think it was a State of the Union address, he said, to call upon the great country of Egypt which led the Middle East in peace now to lead it in democracy. And I think to have an American president talking that way left a certain lasting impact on the way people were thinking about the possibility of democracy in their own country and region. 

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to come back to the Iranian revolution. So why did the Islamists prevail?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

One of the most important reasons was the network of the clerics-- clergy and the mosques all around the country who supported the revolution. You know, dictatorship of the Shah destroyed any political party, any opposition group, except the, you know the mosques and religious organizations.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But you know in our comparison now between Iran and Egypt isn't that true today? I mean, certainly Mubarak did his best to destroy or minimize the effect of civil society. You know you had the Muslim brotherhood but really not much in the way of other institutions. I have to say that you know when I was at the State Department we tried to help build some of these institutions but I don't think we got very far.

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

But there is a very very big difference between Iran and Egypt. Sunni countries, the network of the mosques are controlled by the governments, but in Shi'ism the mosques are independent of the government. So I mean in Iran, because of Shi'ism, the network of the mosques were independent from the government and as soon as Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader, succeeded to persuade the majority of the clerics of Iran to support him and the Islamic revolution then we had a very powerful tool against Shah.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Can I ask you a personal question? Why did you change sides?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

It started about three years after victory of the revolution. Gradually I found out that the system doesn't work. When I saw the brutality of the, you know, ideologic regime against the opposition groups and inefficiency in the industries of Iran and the slogans against all the world including the United States and several other factors. Gradually I changed my ideas. I reread all the books of the founders of revolution and at last not only me, many people like me in my generation, we changed our ideas from a maximum theory of religion to a minimum theory of religion and to think about a democratic version of Islam instead of a revolutionary ideologic version of Islam. A kind of pluralism in religion, pluralistic religion instead of a monistic religion.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you think that that is-- that kind of view is shared by many people in the Middle East?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA:

By many people yeah in my generation. The first step that came out of these types of ideas in Iran was reform movement in Iran in 90s. We tried to reform the regime toward a democracy. It didn't work because of the constitution so the next step was to change the constitution. What happened last year in 2009 in Iran-- to use the situation of election-- presidential election in Iran was the biggest step toward a democratic movement in Iran.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So Josh, given what you've said earlier about the kind of a democratic contagion regionally in Latin America and Eastern Europe, do you think that the Green Movement will prevail in Iran? 

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

I'm very confident that the Green Movement will prevail in Iran. Iran is the most ripe for democracy of the countries of the region. Even though they've lived under this terrible theocracy and before that the Shah's dictatorship but they have had voting, they have had some parties organize, they have had opposition newspapers. Mohsen was the one who published some of them. So the people there in Iran have some experience with the forms of democracy even though they haven't had the privilege to live under it and I think it would be easy to make that transition in Iran and I think the people will keep demanding it.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Josh, in your book, The Next Founders, where you profile leaders in the Middle East who are fighting for democracy, including Mohsen, you say this, 'A critical requisite of democracy is democrats,' small d, 'people who believe in democracy and are ready to work and fight for it.' Can U.S. policy increase the number of democrats in the Middle East? And how?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

Two things I would focus on. One is just the rhetoric from the top about the necessity for democracy.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And has there been enough of that?

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK:

Well what's heartbreaking is that President Obama has been, from the day he took office, so determined to erase the legacy of President Bush that he's completely turned away from Bush's innovation of advocating democracy for the Middle East. I'm hoping that the events in Egypt will give him second thoughts. He has a more silvered tongue than President Bush had, if we could hear this kind of advocacy of democracy from President Obama it might even reach further. And the second thing is, it's a young generation that's leading the push for change and it's also this young generation that's going to have to assume leadership of these countries when the change comes. They're going to need all new institutions to create a democracy. It's easy to overthrow-- not easy but relatively easy to overthrow a dictator, it's much harder to build a democracy that lasts for-- through elections and through political conflict and people need training, they need education. We did some very fine stuff after 1989 with young people from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, often bringing them here for a period of time or programs that we ran over there, to help give them more skills so that they could takeover the leadership of a kind of a new democratic country and I think we need to do the same thing in the Middle East.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Thank you Josh Muravchik and thank you Mohsen Sazegara. And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action. I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching.

Keep in mind that you can watch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you want. To watch highlights or complete programs, just go to ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store. Ideas in Action - because ideas have consequences.

ANNOUNCER:

For more information visit us at ideasinactiontv.com. Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never-ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at Investors.com. This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.

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Featured Guests

Mohsen Sazegara

Iranian Pro-Democracy Activist and Visiting Fellow, the George W. Bush Institute

Mohsen Sazegara is an Iranian dissident, writer and political activist. His Ph.D thesis at University of London, Royal Holloway has focused on religious intellectuals in Iran. He has been a visiting professor at several universities in Iran, and has held visiting scholar positions at Yale University and Harvard University. He was a leader of the 1979 movement that brought the Ayatollahs to power and a founder of that country’s Revolutionary Guard. He served as political deputy in the prime minister’s office and held several other political offices. He became disillusioned with the revolutionary government and left it in 1989. He later served as publisher of several reformist newspapers closed by regime hardliners and was also managing director of Iran’s press cooperative company. Sazegara was recently appointed as the second Visiting Fellow in Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He is the president of Research Institute on Contemporary Iran (RICI).

Joshua Muravchik

Fellow, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and Author, “The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East”

Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies and formerly a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has published more than 300 articles on politics and international affairs. His most recent book is The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East. He is the author of eight previous books, including Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (selected by Choice as one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2002) and Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny. Muravchik, who received his Ph.D. in International Relations from Georgetown University, is also an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an adjunct professor at the Institute for World Politics. He serves on the editorial boards of World Affairs, Journal of Democracy, and the Journal of International Security Affairs. He formerly served as a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion, the Commission on Broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, and the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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