Undoubtedly revolutions are turning points in history, and their magnitude is usually measured by the impact they have on world affairs decades if not centuries later.
However, the French Revolution (1789-1799) that employed the noble slogan of “liberty, equality and fraternity” did not in fact see these qualities instituted in France. What took place were several years labelled as the “reign of terror” following the execution of the former French king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.
These years were characterised by violence and chaos, tearing apart the French state until the rise of the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Fortunately, two centuries later the noble values of the French Revolution have found their way in the world through political and social activism, becoming a standard of the new world order.
The same thing cannot be said of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Taking place in January 1979, this is now marking its 40th anniversary and with it 40 years of negative impacts on the Middle East region and the world as a whole. There are no positive sides to the Iranian Revolution. Instead, there has simply been misery, violence and mass murder.
Under chauvinistic mottos such as “neither East nor West, only the Islamic Republic,” a reference to the US and Soviet camps in the Cold War, Iran’s mullahs forced their way to absolute power in the country, leaving trails of blood behind them. Ironically, the revolution started as a secular revolution against the former shah Reza Pahlavi led by liberals and leftists, but it was soon hijacked by the extremist mullah Ayatollah Khomeini, who executed all his opponents on his ascent to power.
The Islamists in Iran executed over 200 former regime members in their first two months in power, including politicians and army generals. Moreover, in 1988 Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, that resulted in the brutal execution of up to 30,000 political prisoners in five months, according to the recently published memoirs of grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, one of the founders of the Islamic regime who was later placed under house arrest.
These horrific acts of barbarity did not spare children as young as 13, making them one of the darkest chapters in the modern history of the Middle East.
Supporting militant and terrorist organisations to destabilise neighbouring nations and fight proxy wars became the hobby of the Iranian regime after it grabbed power in 1979. Driven by enormous oil wealth and military experience gathered before the revolution, the Iranian mullahs have financed the likes of Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthi militants in Yemen. They have used these proxies to infiltrate these countries and to throw oil on fires already raging in these countries and others.
According to US estimates in 2018, Hizbullah receives about $700 million from Iran annually. Group leader Hassan Nasrallah still brags about the group’s relationship with Iran and is content to be Iran’s loyal agent within the Lebanese state.
For decades, the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group leaders have been frequently visiting Tehran to meet the leaders of the Iranian regime and to receive their political and financial support. Former Brotherhood international relations coordinator Kamal Al-Hilbawi and Swiss-based Brotherhood financier Youssef Nada have orchestrated many of these meetings between the Iranian mullahs and the Brotherhood over the years.
Former Brotherhood supreme guide Mahdi Akef was also open to Iranian expansion in the region. In 2013, during the one-year rule of Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, a visit to Egypt took place from the then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that was the first of its kind in 34 years since ties were severed between the two countries after the Islamic Revolution.
Iran still acts as a catalyst in many of the current conflicts in the Middle East by supporting terrorist groups such as Hamas in Gaza against the legitimate Palestinian Authority (PA) government. The same thing is true of Iran’s support for the Houthi militias in Yemen, which receive direct military and financial support from Tehran, fuelling their coup d’état against Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and takeover of parts of the country in 2014. The civil war in Yemen, which has seen the involvement of many Middle Eastern countries, is still ongoing today.
The Iranian Revolution is a despicable example of how religion can be exploited as a tool of warmongering and persecuting civilians at all levels. Iran has a horrific record on civil rights, especially in its use of barbaric mediaeval methods of public execution and corporal punishment against any dissidence or acts of civil disobedience.
The Iranian regime has tried to export its revolution to neighbouring Middle Eastern states, opening a chapter of confrontation with the regime that is still extant today. The Iranian state, once wealthy and active in the Middle East, became a pariah in the region as a result, and this eventually also became true on a global level. Iran’s nuclear programme exacerbates the danger that such a regime represents to the region and the rest of the world should it indeed manage to possess nuclear capabilities.
The regime’s leaders make incessant threats to the country’s neighbours about launching attacks. They also brag about their control of Arab capitals such as Baghdad, Sanaa, Damascus and Beirut, while seeking to extend their influence further. The threats of the Iranian mullahs during Friday prayers to all those who oppose them have become the norm since 1979.
Furthermore, while the rise of Political Islam was synonymous with the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, it only saw real growth as a global threat of terrorism and intimidation after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. News of plane hijackings, bombings and the formation of jihadist groups became the norm after 1979, and it was paralleled by the rise of Wahhabism and Salafism across the globe. Though the Iranian Revolution was labelled as a Shia phenomenon, radical Sunni groups who oppose the Shia nevertheless became fascinated with the Iranian mullah model of taking power by force.
Terrorist groups from Morocco to Iraq and passing through Egypt have rallied their efforts and resources to attain this goal, but fortunately they have failed to achieve it. However, this has come at a price for the countries concerned, including Egypt, which have found themselves battling generations of radical jihadists.
These groups have included the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Group, Hasm, the Liwa Al-Thawra and Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) affiliates in Northern Sinai. They may utilise different strategies, but their goal of establishing a “caliphate” run by an upper echelon of clerics remains similar to the Iranian model of mullahs applying strict Sharia Law.
The Iranian Revolution was one of the bloodiest chapters of the post-World War II world. It has been ongoing for the past four decades in Iran, with its poison spewing across the Middle East region. The Iranian mullahs have bragged for decades about how they managed to topple the “bloody” regime of the former shah, but Khomeini’s reign of terror that followed the disposal of the shah can only be matched by Stalin’s Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
The sad news is that while the latter regimes have been consigned to the dustbin of history where they belong, the four decades of aggression of the Iranian regime continue. The Iranian regime still has the power to spread mayhem in the region, squandering the oil wealth of a historic nation, destabilising other countries and oppressing its own people through tyranny and persecution.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly