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A chapter in the dissolution of revolutions

Are we witnessing the dissolution of the Egyptian revolution without realising it? To show you what I mean, let us recall what happened to the revolution led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh by which he challenged the Shah of Persia in 1951.

Mosaddegh was head of "Jebhe Melli" at the time, which aimed to nationalise Iranian oil and rid the country of British and American domination. He was no newcomer to politics, having been a minister, Member of Parliament and revered national official; he was elected as Prime Minister in 1951. Two days into his term of office he nationalised the oil industry; this provoked the British, Americans, the Shah and the ruling class. When he announced his determination to implement agricultural reform and determine the ownership of land, the religious institutions abandoned him, with some religious figures denouncing him for "opposing Islam and Islamic Law".


Britain filed charges against Mosaddegh in the International Court of Justice claiming the violation of its oil rights, so he travelled personally to The Hague to defend his stance. He described Britain as "an imperialist country stealing the subsistence of needy Iranian people." On his way back, he stopped in Cairo where he was received enthusiastically by Prime Minister Mustafa el-Nahhas Pasha and the people of Egypt.

In an attempt to block Mosaddegh's revolutionary policies, Britain imposed an international blockade on Iranian oil on the grounds that his government violated the rights of the British Petroleum Company. The economic pressure that resulted contributed to the deterioration of Iranian living standards and turned the people against Mosaddegh's government. America took a different tack, sending two CIA agents to Tehran – an important base in its struggle against the Soviet Union to do what was necessary to overthrow the government.

The two agents, Kermit Roosevelt and Norman Schwarzkopf, planned the secret "Operation Ajax" and set out to do the following:

  • Damage Mosaddegh's reputation by launching protests against him, promoted by local and international media outlets. The New York Times described him as a dictator and compared him to Hitler and Stalin. The Times of London said that what Mosaddegh did was considered to be the worst disaster to hit the free world which rejects communism.
  • Enlist Tehran's most notorious thug, Shaban Jafari, and charge him with taking over the capital's major roads. His men were brought in on buses from all over the country and they gathered in the streets chanting offensive slogans against Mosaddegh.
  • Assassinate national figures; 300 people were killed on the streets of the capital, which were riddled with fear and panic.
  • Conspire with some army officials to bomb Mosaddegh's house; the operation was led by General Fazlollah Zahedi, who the Shah appointed as Prime Minister in place of Mosaddegh before he fled from Tehran to Italy through Iraq.

Roosevelt's mission was a success, as it ended with Mosaddegh's arrest. He was sentenced to death although this was later commuted to 3 years' solitary confinement by the Shah, who returned victorious. On his release, Mosaddegh was exiled to Ahmadabad in northern Iran until his death in 1967.

Before we depart from this look at history, I would like to remind you of three things I hope you will keep in mind while examining the Egyptian scene. First, the campaign to overthrow Mosaddegh and abort his revolution began with an economic blockade that aimed to restrict the people and convince them that the new situation was worse than the old. The second is that the agents of "Operation Ajax", which was funded by the CIA, used three elements to help them achieve their mission: the media, thugs and some members of the army. Third, the operation took 2 years, from 1951 to 1953.

While we are on the topic of experiences and lessons, I would like to point out that the abortion of the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya is no longer a secret, except for the small print. Western academics have already turned them into topics taught in universities, providing political science lecturers and students with the background and reasons for their successes and failures. Such individuals are well aware of names like Crane Brinton, Barrington Moore, Theda Skocpol and Jack Goldstone, all of whom are among the elite of revolution theorists. Together they provide enough to be able to find out what the factors and indicators are for the abortion and dissolution of revolutions.

We cannot talk about foreign intervention through military action or financial affairs because foreign states have their own agendas and interests, both legitimate and illegitimate, and it is natural for them to defend these interests in any way possible. As such, although their interventions are not acceptable they are at least understandable.

The main problem, therefore, is not the possibility of foreign intervention, but internal fragility and fragmentation which create the potential to abort the revolution. We should look at similar situations where a revolution did not need foreign intervention to cancel it because internal factors were enough.

Academics and theorists believe that the dissolution of revolutions is achieved through the following factors:

  • The deterioration of the economic situation by immobilising production, closing roads and stopping exports, causing some means of production to close down and unemployment to increase, providing a pool of people ready to engage in activities which threaten state security.
  • Destabilising the tourist industry which revives the economy by providing quick revenue with an impact on many different sectors of society.
  • Creating instability in the country by spreading chaos, encouraging strikes and sit-ins, and convincing the largest possible number of people that they are not secure, not only in their sources of income but also that their lives are in danger. Moreover, the role of thugs is essential to this process, as they are the most capable of intimidating every level of society.
  • Investment in media platforms to spread doubt about the status quo and fear for the future. In this regard, television can have a dangerous impact and so is regarded as the best medium to do this. It can ruin reputations and humiliate people in public on a vast scale.
  • The encouragement of civil disobedience across society.
  • Inciting sectarian and ethnic strife leading to the fragmentation of society and the absence of national consensus.
  • The provision of political cover for violence.
  • The deepening of political polarisation by inciting conflict among politicians and placing obstacles in the way of resolutions to these conflicts, pushing them so that co-existence becomes impossible.
  • Destroying respect for authority.
  • Driving a wedge between state institutions, especially those which are armed, so that resorting to arms is used to resolve disagreements.
  • Sabotaging plans to establish alternatives to the system.
  • Rehabilitating the once-discredited former regime by speaking nostalgically about it when its shortcomings are no longer fresh in the minds of the public.

It is clear that what revolution theorists are saying is actually what Kermit Roosevelt did in Tehran nearly sixty years ago and their conclusions are almost identical to what is currently taking place in Egypt. It is as if they had Egypt's situation under the rule of President Mohamed Morsi in mind when they produced their ideas.

The overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran took two years and two years have passed since the Egyptian revolution. It is true that the regime in Egypt is still surviving, but there is a revolution of ideas taking place that we must pay heed to. The proof of this is that we are starting to hear loud voices talking publicly about Morsi's illegitimacy, counting on another revolution, calling for the return of the generals to run the country, and using the ousted president, who was acquitted by the courts, as a leader for the opposition. The low regard in which Morsi is held can be seen by the accusation that he is guilty of treason and a newspaper said that he is a spy for the Turks.

Whether the similarity between events in Egypt and the formula for overthrowing a regime compiled by the theorists is coincidental or if it was planned by those with mutual interests in achieving the downfall of the government is open to debate. We are certain of one thing though; what is happening in the country is leading it down that path.

I know that the formula of these theorists is not set in stone and that the results they foresee are not inevitable. As such, I claim that the performance of President Morsi is the only thing that can save the country from its expected fate. His actions, if performed wisely and firmly, can undermine the work of the anti-revolutionaries. If he doesn't, he must bear the consequences. We are waiting.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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