Revolution in Iran? Doubtful at best.

Since the Iranian “revolution” in 1978, pundits and “experts” have been transferring the results of that revolution  to those initially termed “revolutions” in the  Arab world, such as the Arab spring of 2011.

The real truth is that there has never been a successful revolution (defined as something like the French revolution of 1789)  in the Arab  world….. coups by the dozens, but revolutions from the bottom?…never.

In fact the revolution in Iran only came to its successful conclusion by a number of fortuitous circumstances The Shah was gravely ill with brain cancer and was in fact a rather weak s despot. He could not bring himself to order his troops to fire on the Islamist and Communist led mobs. Much is made of the fact that gradually his army melted away but that can be explained by the fact that the Iranian generals, many of whom were parade ground officers, were also weak and in true middle eastern cultural tradition, would not do anything without orders from the top. The temerity of the Shah was compounded by indecisive American interference and very poor intelligence.

the shah and his queen

The Shah Crowning his wife Queen Farah

The arrogance of our Ambassador Sullivan also added to the success of the revolution,    For the most part American intelligence was unaware of the situation in Iran. Most of our officials were mesmerized by the picture of a New Iran made Western  by technocrats and American educated intellectuals. For months, Ambassador Sullivan repeatedly opined that the Shah was in control and the demonstrations would be put down. President Carter’s foreign policy officials sent a special envoy, (General Robert Huyser) to the Shah, but gave him conflicting instructions to convey to the  Iranian generals. Huyser tried to rally the generals but their apathy and primary desire to save their own skins stymied his mission. No one in the top-level of the Iranian military stepped forward to take control of the situation. The military commanders of the army, air force and navy  had been kept separate by the Shah and remained divided  to the very end. Apathy, resignation, or denial  marked the attitude of the military leadership.


The old Persian Empire: the Dream of today’s Iranian leadership


With the exception of a few, most of the Iranian military leaders and security officials, and most of all,  the Shah, recoiled at the idea of ordering their troops to fire on the mobs. The narrative at the time, and since has been, that the rank and file would not do so, and it seems that was true as gradually the military personnel did desert singly and  later en mass. These mobs were led by Islamist followers of  Ayatollah Khomeini  or  hard-core communists ( In Iran the Tudeh). The Shah’s Imperial Guard, called  the” Immortals,” would have done so without any hesitation and so would the special operations units. Had they been en employed forcefully the Shah’s son would be in power now. But lethargy, indecision, and misplaced  concerns for loss of life created an environment of inertia.  The consequence of doing nothing then has subsequently resulted in thousands of Iranians executed by the regime, a war with Iraq, one of the bloodiest in recent history, and an irredentist and expansionist  Iran; One in which the leaders want to restore the Persian empire.

I was in army intelligence in the Pentagon at the time and was privy to the abject ignorance of what this incipient  Islamic Regime was about. Many in the State department and DOD thought we could deal with these people.  Some still do!!! When the Shah departed, people in the Pentagon were talking about sending US army advisors to Iran to “assist” the new government in rebuilding their army. Had it happened there would have been a hundred or more potential hostages for Iran to bargain with.

Another popular opinion of the “experts” at the time was that  Khomeini was just an ignorant peasant cleric and the Communists, led by elitist intellectuals, would  soon take over the revolution. But in the streets the effete communists were no match for the Islamists.


Being in Washington at this time, I attended many academic conferences on Iran. Inevitably a number of Iranian students, mostly from George Washington University, would disrupt every conference shouting anti Shah slogans.  Sadegh Ghotbazadeh, a close confidant of Khomeini,  was one of them. He was later executed by the regime. In fact I have no doubt most of these privileged Iranian students, (They bring to mind our present day Antifa and clueless leftist students) , are either dead or in Iranian prisons.

So the bottom line (at last)…… no revolution in the Arab world, or Iran (despite the hopeful events taking place)  will succeed as long as the regimes maintain control of the security apparatus and military.  That’s why Saddam would still be in power today had we not destroyed by invading. One can debate whether that was a good idea but not the fact that the Saddamist regime was impregnable from within.

Soldiers from an Islamic culture, which  generally advocates obeying authority, are taught obedience above all. That is why when Egyptian general al Sisi when he ordered his troops out to use force if necessary to protect the mobs shouting for him, he did not worry about whether or not would they fire on counter demonstrators. They did. Hazen  Kandil in his excellent book Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt described it as an “incredible display of military unity.”  There was not a single defection from the Egyptian units. I would say it displayed the passivity and obedience to authority characteristic of most Arab militaries.

Today’s political scientists stuff everything into boxes labelled race,. class. and gender. From this post modernist nonsense , the theory would be that the Egyptian  peasant soldiers would not fire upon their fellow peasants demonstrating for a better quality of life. It does not fit the Marxist strait jacket of thought.

In the Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Syria in the early 80’s, Assad’s soldiers, most of whom were Sunni, leveled Homs and parts of Aleppo, crushing the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood revolt. This despite their distaste for the “heretic” Alawi brand of Islam professed by Assad and his inner circle. The same misjudgment by “experts” was evidenced once again in 2011 when the prevailing view was that the Alawi government would be deserted by the mostly Sunni soldiers.

I would highly recommend one read Naguib Mahfouz, Tawfiq al Hakim or alaa Al Aswani  ( The Yacoubian Building) to better understand the  Egyptian (and generally Arab) attitude to  revolution. As one  frequently hears…. a thousand years of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.



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Training recruits Egypt

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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