(picture taken from the balcony of my apartment in Tehran, February 10, 1979)
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” I lived in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. I have the distinction of having been on the first official evacuation flight to leave Tehran in February of 1979. Following the recent news out of Tehran is just like “the old days.”
The Edmonton Sunstarts their report on the goings on in Iran as follows:
In the Persian legend of Zahak and Kaveh, the evil King Zahak has two snakes growing out of his shoulders where the devil has kissed him. The snakes demand a daily diet of one human brain each. After years of having their brains used for snake food, the people get very fed up. One day, a blacksmith from out of town named Kaveh shows up, leads a revolt against the king, who is locked in a cave with the brain-eating snakes, and the kingdom is saved.
An Iranian friend, commenting on election reports from home on Friday, said, "It's our national story. Iranians are always waiting for another Kaveh to save the kingdom from tyranny."
It really was the same story back in 1979. One of the most astute political cartoons I have ever seen was one that ran in the International Herald Tribune back then: it showed a bunch of protesters waving signs, some said "The Shah is liberalizing too fast" others said "The Shah is liberalizing too slow" some said "The Shah is too pro-Western," others said "The Shah is not pro-Western enough." The caption read, "We'll settle our differences when we get rid of the Shah.
Back then, the Iranian Revolution arrived not because the Iranians were so pious they wanted to live under an Islamic Republic — rather it arrived because the people were disgusted with the Shah. Ayatollah Khomeini was the only choice, he was the "Kaveh" coming to save the kingdom from tyranny.
Of course, hindsight shows they made a bad choice, and all they did was exchange one form of tyranny for another. As we bought a Persian carpet from a Jewish rug merchants "going to Geneva" sale, he said "these poor people, they think when Khomeini comes the streets will be paved with gold. The truth is the streets will be paved with mud."
Back in 1978-79, the riots and protests started in the poorer southern part of Tehran — where the people were mostly protesting because their lives were economically miserable, while the Shah — and the elite who lived in the northern part of the city (where I lived) — were enjoying lavish life styles.
This time, the riots and protests have started in the more affluent northern part of Tehran — among the more educated, sophisticated people who don't want to live in a backwards country, but want to see Iran take it's place in the modern world. Iran really has the resources — intellectual, financial, etc., — to be "the Japan of the Middle East." Not that they would rival Japan, but they could be the economic leader of the region, a big and respected player.
In January and February of 1979, as the Iranian Revolution was moving full speed ahead, there were power outages every night — right at 8:19pm, every night, my power went out as electric workers form of protest. We'd go on our roof top and look at the eerily dark and quiet city of millions, listening to people chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) from roof
top to roof top. My friend David, a fellow refugee from the first Iranian Revolution, found this recording of the same thing happening today:
There are things about this revolution that are the same as in 1979 — and things that are very different. As in 1979, the Iranian people are protesting against tyranny. They are protesting against political leadership that considers itself above the law and treats the people as inconsequential. They are protesting against a government more concerned with keeping itself in power than in meeting the needs of the people. And they are protesting against a vicious government that probably will not hesitate to use force if they feel really threatened. So far, thank God, deaths among protesters have been few. If the protesters don't get tired and give up, however, it is quite possible that violent repression will come next.
Unlike in 1979, the protesters are connected to each other and the world in new and powerful ways. Back in 1979, I had to get up early in the morning and listen to the BBC at the very bottom edge of the AM radio — near shortwave frequencies — to know what was happening in another part of Tehran. The news was censored. Today, thanks to cell phone cameras and twitter, there is a lot more information readily available, both inside Iran and abroad, as to what is happening. You can follow persiankiwi on twitter for updates: http://twitter.com/persiankiwi . Morningside Post has an interesting item about twitter and the revolution you can see here.
Some of my fellow Israelis think we are better off with Ahmadinejad: they think that Moussavi (who started Iran's nuclear program in the '80s) will just keep the nuclear program going, but with a "kinder gentler face" that will mislead the West. I disagree. Ahmadinejad is a nut case. I don't want him anywhere near the command post responsible for Iran's military. I far prefer Moussavi, who wants to respond to Obama's outreach in kind, who would release the screws on his people (at least to a significant degree if not completely). Our best form of security with Iran would be to woo them into the Western sphere, get them to voluntarily give up on any weapons program. A pipe dream? It happened with Libya, it could happen in Iran. Maybe it's time for carrots, not sticks…
PS. An interesting collection of links about what's happening in Iran can be found at China in Africa (yes, I realize that's not a likely place!)