It all began with crowds of anti-government demonstrators occupying the main city square to demand the overthrow of the regime’s long-serving dictator. For weeks the country was paralysed, as student groups intensified their campaign for democracy and the rule of law, and an end to the institutional brutality that was routinely meted out to anyone who defied the government’s diktat.
But when the tyrant was finally removed from power, the campaigners saw their pro-democracy aspirations brutally crushed. Instead of living under military rule, they found themselves being governed by an Islamic dictatorship, where any form of opposition to the government was deemed an offence against God punishable by death.
The Iranian experience during the 1979 revolution is an object lesson in how a popular uprising can deliver outcomes that are far removed from what was originally intended. When millions of Iranians took to the streets to campaign for the overthrow of the Shah, they fully expected his dictatorial regime to be replaced with a more representative form of government that served the interests of the nation as a whole, rather than a privileged few. Instead, they ended up with one of the most fanatical Islamic regimes of modern times.
Now the eruption of fresh demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square has raised fears that Egypt’s pro-democracy revolution is about to suffer a similar fate. It is nearly two years since Tahrir Square became a beacon of the country’s pro-democracy movement, as millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand the removal of the long-standing military dictator, President Hosni Mubarak.