Islamic Organizations in Egypt and the Iranian Revolution of 1979: The Experience of the First Few Years

By Abdelnasser, Walid M. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Islamic Organizations in Egypt and the Iranian Revolution of 1979: The Experience of the First Few Years


Abdelnasser, Walid M., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


The Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran has had a far reaching impact, direct as well as indirect, throughout the region. This has been the case whether at the level of other governments' policy-making options or at that of various groups and/or organizations upholding the banner of Islam as a political ideology and program in their quest for political control in different countries of the region.

This study confines itself to the examination of the positions of various self-declared political Islamic actors in Egyptian politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s toward the events in Iran, namely the triumph of its revolution in 1979 and the subsequent declaration of an Islamic republic there, all related developments including the position toward Shiism(1) as well as the eruption of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Before dealing with the period under study, however, this study will briefly highlight some aspects of the position of the Muslim Brotherhood(2) of Egypt toward Iran and the Shiite doctrine in an earlier period, namely before its banning in 1954.

In the 1940s, Shaykh Hasan al-Banna, the founder and first General Guide (al-Murshid al-'Am) of the Muslim Brotherhood, joined a group aimed at bridging the gap between Sunnism and Shiism as a means to achieve doctrinal unity among Muslims. Such efforts reflected the Muslim Brotherhood's conviction that any Islamic unity should be based on Quranic principles and doctrinal unity; a goal to which it had worked since its establishment in 1928. The same group included, beside al-Banna, the Shiite Mulla al-Sayyid al-Qummi. Hasan al-Banna believed that the Muslim Brotherhood should join any effort that would prevent the enemies of Islam from manipulating doctrinal differences among Muslims in order to pre-empt any attempt aimed at the achievement of Islamic unity.(3) On several occasions, al-Banna said that divisions among Islamic sects should be brought to an end so that Islamic law (Shari'a) would be applied and, therefore, the glory of Islam would be restored.(4)

At that stage, it was reported that the Muslim Brotherhood had developed links with Nawab Safawi's Fedayan-Islam organization in Iran. In fact, shortly after the 1952 revolution, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood students invited Safawi to participate in a conference organized by them at Cairo University. They held him on their shoulders and introduced him as an Islamic leader.(5)

IRAN'S REVOLUTION OF 1978/79

Since 1978, most political Islamic actors in Egypt have, implicitly or explicitly, criticized official stands expressing support for, or at least sympathy with, the Shah of Iran and criticism of the Iranian revolution and its leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Some of those actors in fact interpreted the official position as a provocation, the ostensible purpose of which was to spread feelings of hatred against the Islamic model in Iran. Successive invitations extended to the deposed Shah to reside in Egypt as well as the position on the question of the American hostages in Teheran in the period from 1979 to 1981 helped exacerbate differences between the State and various groupings of the Islamic movement in Egypt and antagonized an increasing number of Islamic groups in Egypt.(6)

Some political Islamic actors challenged the official argument that the help provided for the Shah was an expression of gratitude for the substantial oil, military and economic assistance he gave to Egypt in 1973 and thereafter.(7) Instead they referred to the oil the Shah had provided for Israel at the time of the 1973 oil embargo and the close military and intelligence relations he had established with Israel. Furthermore, political Islamic actors charged that there were attempts to project Egypt as an alternative regional power to the Shah's Iran. The movement also charged that the underlying objective of the Egyptian media campaign against Khomeini and the new regime in Teheran was to widen the gap between Sunnis and Shiites. …

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