No Rush

Easier to revolt than to rebuild as the Iranian experience has shown


No Rush
by Hooshang Amirahmadi

The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt will go down the history as two of the fastest and easiest "revolutions" of all time! It is almost certain that the US was instrumental in bringing the rapid change, and this is good news for people and bad news for dictators. The American involvement by no means should belittle the heroism of the Egyptian people. They have made their history again and we should all hope that the consequences will be equally hospitable. Revolutions generate lots of hope, energy and optimism, and the young Egyptians are now filled with these positive qualities. But revolutions are also fraught with serious dangers.

The US role remains critical in understanding these dangers and advising Egyptian leaders accordingly.  Will it? We should hope so!  In the last 20 or so years (when I have struggled for better US-Iran relations), I have been arguing that “no country has ever become democratic in the absence of diplomatic ties with the US, and that anti-American governments are also anti-democratic.”  This does not suggest that governments that have normal relations with the US are or become automatically democratic. What this correlation or association indicates is that normal relations with the US are a necessary condition for democratic change in dictatorships, though it is not a sufficient condition.

Indeed, dictators who have normal diplomatic relations with the US collapse faster and easier than dictators who have no such relations with the US.  Anti-American governments are also less likely to be overthrown as these entities behave like “people in the streets.”  Think of Iran and Cuba -- the US has been trying to overthrow governments there but instead governments are overthrown in “friendly” Egypt and Tunisia!  Diplomatic ties and trade melt dictators, while isolation and sanctions fatten them! Let us hope that the US government learns this simple lesson borne by its own experience and apply it to Iran as well!

Mubarak’s departure from power is certainly a welcome first step, but more needs to be done for democratization of the Egyptian polity. It is always easier to revolt than to rebuild as the Iranian experience has vividly shown. We all know that the young Egyptians were instrumental in the revolt stage but Egypt needs wise and mature political and business leaders to rebuild the post-revolutionary society. Does Egypt have enough of the second group or they are more like the “politicians and merchants” in Iran (secular and religious alike)? I hope it does, as otherwise returning to square one is a real possibility.

We already see the sign of danger as the “transition to democracy” in Egypt is going to be managed by a military junta.  This institution has played the key role in Egyptian anti-democratic polity since 1952, when General Muhammad Naguib and Colonel GamaL Abdul Nasser overthrow the Monarchy in a coup. Will the junta transfer power to, or share power with, the civilian leaders? We should hope so! Does Egypt have the kind of civilian leaders that the military and their Western allies can trust? We should hope it does! Are there civilian leaders who really understand the intricacies of the transition to democracy in a nation of many antagonistic interests? We should hope there are!

Egypt may need a Turgut Ozal, the Turkish politician who convinced the army to leave the governing polity after several decades of ruling with iron hands. But the Egyptian Ozal must also understand another critical Egyptian reality: that now is the time for strategic (not just tactical) and honest compromises among competing interests and needs. The Egyptian society is comprised of three interest groups and three corresponding needs: the upper class (the generals, the capitalists, the old guards) are after economic growth and wealth accumulation; the middle class (professionals, the intelligentsia) is for political development (democratization or political reform), and the base class (workers, peasants, poor) is for social justice (provision of basic needs).

Democratization in Egypt demands that these interest groups and their legitimate needs are brought together in a grand compromise plan of action and that can be best achieved by the formation of a coalition government. The governing coalition must also avoid the usual populist anti-Americanism in the region! It is now time for inclusion and not exclusion – at all levels! Will these interest groups, the junta in particular, understand the need for such a grand compromising scheme? And do they have the required political culture to help in this process of national reconciliation and democratization? We should hope they do!

Beyond these interests and needs, there are other important areas that require reform, including balancing international relations, avoiding anti-Israelism while promoting Palestinian interests, harmonizing tradition with modernity, reconciling Islam with secular life, attending to minority and regional affairs, creating jobs for the young Egyptians, and securing women and human rights.  A sea of issues awaits Egyptians but it is critical that they go in steps and on the basis of a well developed set of priorities. They also need to be patient. A rush to action is deadly in a sensational situation that can develop in Egypt.

What happens in Egypt in the next several months is critical for the future of democratization in the larger Middle East and North Africa, and the most important first step will be holding free and fair elections. We should all pray that the Egyptian people will set a great example to be followed by other nations. It is our responsibility to help as well, perhaps by theorizing, offering ideas for the transition, and providing the right examples.

Hooshang Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers University and president of the American-Iranian Council.


more from Hooshang Amirahmadi
Cyrus Khorasani

Amirahmadi Give Your Friend Nategh Nouri a Ring

by Cyrus Khorasani on

Professor Amirahmadi,

You might want to give your friend Nategh Nouri a call to give him some learned public relations input. That is assuming of course, you did not coach him to say what he did in the first place.

Please see the link for Nategh Nouri's latest ruminations condemning the protest of two days ago:



Are you sure about the "progressive" role of the US ?

by radius-of-the-persian-cat on

I would question your conclusion that  "Indeed, dictators who have normal diplomatic relations with the US
collapse faster and easier than dictators who have no such relations
with the US."
Perhaps the closest allies of the US is Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And here you don"t have any hope that the people will stand up for democratic changes. And I"m sure that the long-lasting US support for Mubarak has rather retarded any oppositional movement. By the way, how do you define "...having normal diplomatic relations with the US ..." ?  I would not call a relation normal, where one partner (usually the bigger one) abuses the other one (usually the smaller of the two) as an instrument for its own, egoistic goals, only to sacrify him like a chess-pawn as soon as this goal is not important any more. This is exactly how the US have defined for too long time their allies on the one side and the rough guys on the other side. Sadam was for decades a close allie of the americans, just like Mubarak. And I cant remember any sign of an opposition movements in Sadams Iraq.

My firm believe is that the majority of people don"t give a damn on abstract, political relations of their gouvernment and the US. Why should they care. In Tunisia as well as in Egypt what really made the people angry and fuel their protest was the economic crisis, together with the hypocrisis of the political leaders living in luxury while the majority feels their living standard going down more and more. B. Clinton was absolute right when he paraphrased it "Its the economy, stupid", but he just brought into a more common language what Marx already described as the "primacy of the economy". Democracy is really a luxury good when you have nothing to bite. And the relationship of your gouvernment is the least you care about in such a situation.


We are all united Amirahmadi speaks for IRI not Iran

by AlexInFlorida on

IRI must go, either nice and peacefully using people power and national strikes or violently with help from citizens, soldiers and pasdaran no longer loyal to the IRI system.  It would be helpful if USA would shut down all iranian oil exports and the income of the regime... in a rush... and as an act of promoting human rights for Iranians against the unelected iranian dictatorship.


Put yourself in the shoes of Mohammad's father

by mullah-kosh on

One would think that after seeing what happened to the Pahlavis, and their associates, one would stay as far away from temporary gains at the expense of human rights. One would stay away from supporting dictatorships, and those who perptuate terrorism, violence, and torture of their citizens. Here we have a so called "professor" of a major university in the United States completely ignoring history, and lessons it so obviously puts in front of us. These people think that what IR is doing will be forgotten, and just because they live in the United States, they will be safe from the arms of justice. Indeed, they must be drunk. They are drunk  and blinded by the free paid travels, and financial help of that regime.

Today is a really bad day, I mean one of the worst. We now know at least two beautiful lives were taken by the thugs of the regime this so called professor is defending. Who do you think will have to reckon, and pay for the sins of that government? The answer was clear before, and it will be clear again. This time however, the atrocities are thousand times worse, and the reckoning will engulf not just those who perpetuated these crimes, but those who supported, and whitewashed them.

I only have one thing to say to Mr Amirahmadi. Imagine Mohammad Mokhtiri was your son, just imagine that. Now go back and see if you would rewrite these nonsense again, and would defend that evil regime. Somehow, I think you fail to put yourself in the shoes of Mohammad's father. Your time will come, that is a promise to Mohammad that Iranians have made.



by vildemose on

Pictures of 14 Feb Martyrs in Iran- Mohammad Mokhtari and Sanee Jaleh




shameful. The problem is

by vildemose on

shameful. The problem is that you don't understand either Iran or the US. How can you build a bridge when you're befuddled by  both side as it is clearly evident by 'your' years of aimless "struggle".


Hob nobing with influential people in the US and Iran does not make you an expert or a leader who can grapple with complex and multilayered conflicts. You can't even articulate the problem betweeen the two countries let alone trying to be instrumental in finding a resolution.

Mr. Amirahmadi bio. 

He was a candidate for President in the Nine Presidential Elections in Iran in June 2005, but the conservative and religious Guardian Council disqualified him for his dual Iranian-American citizenship and democratic platform. Dr. Amirahmadi is also the president of Caspian Associates, Inc. (, an international strategic consulting firm headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey.

Cyrus Khorasani


by Cyrus Khorasani on

Mr. Amirahmadi,

With all due respect, all Iranians are well aware that change is difficult and disruptive. After the revolution of three decades ago, few would suggest that Iranians have been oblivious to the trite observation you make. 

It is interesting that you are now assuming the mantle for change by highlighting your "struggles" to establish relations between the United States and Iran.

The corelation you speak of is hardly as simple as you suggest. Its not that the United States necessarily nudges countries on the political path to democracy. The far more significant dynamic is that a country that has ties with the United States is one that has a stake in being open to the world and engaged in the global economy (ie, Egypt).

In Iran, the present leadership does not care about becoming a member of the international community or advancing the country's economic interests. All its ruling regime cares for is to remain in power. Sadly you do not address this far more significant underpinning dynamic, nor mention that you acted as an advisor to Mr. Nategh Nouri, the hard knucked conservative cleric running for president against Khatami in 1997. That hardly confirms that your engagement in Iranian affairs are borne by the desire to advance the country's democratic aspirations or political well being.

You have raised ingaratiating yourself to the United States one day, and praising the Ayatollah's the next into an art form.  Only if life and your grandiose ambitions were so simple. 

I find it interesting that in the face of the current heroics of Iranians on the streets of Tehran you refuse to condemn the regime outright for fear of burning your bridges with the current plutocracy. I suppose it is far more important to you to position yourself as the lynchpin for possible improved bilateral relations, than one taking a sober academic look at the country's political plight.

Sir, when will your conscience behoove you to put the country's interests before your own incessant jockeying for personal gain.  An otherwise respected institution like Rutgers suffers for the likes of you.