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Think Khomeini When Brotherhood Talks

Almost a decade ago, former Iranian literature professor Jalal Matini penned a piece in the U.S.-based, Persian language journal Iranshenasi, entitled, “The Most Truthful Individual in Recent History.” It was a study of Ayatollah Khomeini’s statements prior to seizing power, and his actions afterwards.

Shortly after, Iranian.com, an online Iranian-interest website, translated key portions of the article, only a few examples of which I reproduce here:

  • “Personal desire, age, and my health do not allow me to personally have a role in running the country after the fall of the current system.” — Interview with the Associated Press, Paris, November 7, 1978
  • “I have repeatedly said that neither my desire nor my age nor my position allows me to govern.” — Interview with the United Press, Paris, November 8, 1978
  • “I don’t want to have the power or the government in my hand; I am not interested in personal power.” — Interview with The Guardian newspaper, Paris, November 16, 1978
  • “I don’t want to be the leader of the Islamic Republic; I don’t want to have the government or the power in my hands. I only guide the people in selecting the system.” — Interview with an Austrian TV reporter, Paris, November 16, 1978
  • “The foundation of our Islamic government is based on freedom of dialogue and will fight against any kind of censorship.” — Interview with Reuters news agency, Paris, October 26, 1978
  • “In the Islamic Republic the rights of the religious minorities are respectfully regarded.” Interview with an Austrian TV reporter, Paris, November 6, 1978

After the Revolution, Khomeini took quite a different tone:

  • “Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.” — In a meeting with Iranian students and educators, Qom, March 13, 1979
  • “We have to warn these intellectuals that if they don’t stop their meddling, they will be crushed. We have treated you gently so that maybe you would stop your evilness, and if you don’t stop, we will have the last word. These American sympathizers and others must know that in just a few hours we can throw them in the trashcan of annihilation any day that we wish to do so.” — In a talk to the Iranian people, August 8, 1979
  • “Those who are trying to bring corruption and destruction to our country in the name of democracy will be oppressed. They are worse than Bani-Ghorizeh Jews, and they must be hanged. We will oppress them by God’s order and God’s call to prayer.” — In a talk at the Fayzieah School, Qom, August 30, 1979

As the Obama administration has considered its position toward the Muslim Brotherhood, it has accepted the advice of academics and advisers who have suggested that the Brotherhood has reformed and evolved. Brotherhood interlocutors in Tahrir Square assured American diplomats, scholars, and journalists that they had indeed moderated. Yet, once the Muslim Brotherhood consolidated power, they began systematically to backpedal on previous promises: First the Brotherhood ran candidates in more than half Egypt’s districts, then they fielded a candidate for president.

As Mohamed Morsi purges opposition and frees himself from established checks-and-balances, it appears more promises will fall by the wayside. Alas, as Matini has shown, we have seen this playbook before.


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