By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.
The rapid rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak last year prompted many observers to see an Islamist Egypt as inevitable. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was the best organized and most popular political party in Egypt, the opposition was divided, there was little Western support for the secular opposition and the United States welcomed Muslim Brotherhood delegations to meet White House officials. Most recently, it worked openly with President Mohamed Morsy to achieve a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. All this seemed to many to be a rough replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Yet, as the mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood recently in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have shown, an Islamic Egypt, while still likely, is far from inevitable.
Successful revolutions are usually led by charismatic leaders with strong political intuition – think Mao, Lenin, Tito, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All personified their revolutions and drove the masses on to victory. But Morsy is no Ayatollah Khomeini, who embodied revolutionary mysticism and spent a lifetime steeped in political thought. The reality is that Morsy lacks charisma, and spent his life gaining a PhD and chairing an Egyptian engineering school until 2010. His abrupt and radical moves belie a lack of political savoir faire.
Morsy and the Brotherhood also lack the great wealth in oil and gas revenues (and do not have the option of expropriating the great wealth of the Shah) that gave the Ayatollah financial leverage in Iran. Egypt is a poor country, whose GDP per capita is only about $6,500 per year, according to the most recent IMF figures.
Equally important is the lack of any Great Satan (Khomeini’s name for the United States) and Little Satan (his term for Israel) against which the Ayatollah roused the Iranian masses. Instead, Morsy, through his negotiations with, and accepting money from, the United States, looks if anything more like an ally of the Great Satan. He also lacks a war with an external enemy such as Iran faced with Iraq in the 1980s, around which Khomeini could rally the Iranian population.
The Shiites in Iran, after a lengthy period of perceived persecution, also rallied around the idea of a revolutionary Iran restoring them to their “proper” role in a Sunni dominated region. This appeal was reinforced by the frequent and powerful interference by the U.K., the United States and Russia in their internal affairs. Egypt lacks such a history. And, to boot, has 8 million Coptic Christians, many of whom oppose the Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood also faces a significantly stronger regime than post-Shah Iran – there’s a million -security force, multi-million man bureaucracy, independent courts and media. Meanwhile, unlike Iran, Egypt lacks the resources to provide serious help to the impoverished masses.
And finally, having seen what happened in Islamic revolutions in Iran (1979), Afghanistan (1996) and Gaza (2006), its secular opponents are far more likely to come out and fight for their interests.
The flight of Morsy from his presidential palace on Tuesday, and the massive number of demonstrators in front of the palace and elsewhere, does not augur well for the president, and the Muslim Brotherhood faces either a protracted battle for consolidation of its power or the possibility of ultimately being ousted from power. Either way an Islamic Egypt does not look quite so inevitable anymore.