Image: Shah of Iran
In this Feb. 16, 1950, picture, the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi reads his inaugural speech at the initial session of his nation's first senate in Tehran. The popular revolt against the shah raised alarm bells in the West, which saw the shah as a trusted ally and counterweight to hard-line Arab regimes and Palestinian radicals.
updated 2/12/2011 6:53:03 PM ET 2011-02-12T23:53:03

No sooner had the announcement come than the streets of Cairo exploded in joyful celebration. The hated autocrat was gone. A new era was ushered in with cheers, tears and the cacophony of car horns.

And so it was in Tehran — 32 years before to the day.

On Feb. 11, 1979, the commander of the Iranian air force announced on national radio that the armed forces were withdrawing from the fight to save the American-backed regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had already fled the country three weeks before in the face of burgeoning street protests against his autocratic rule.

With the military gone, the Iranian monarchy collapsed and with it any chance that the shah would return from what had been spun as a vacation — ironically to Anwar Sadat's Egypt.

As the troops returned to barracks, Tehran erupted into wild celebrations — punctuated by the deafening din of thousands of horns.

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The popular revolt against the shah raised alarm bells in the West, which saw the prickly monarch as a trusted ally and counterweight to hard-line Arab regimes and Palestinian radicals. The face of the revolution was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose demeanor, vehemently anti-American rhetoric and stern interpretation of Islam challenged not only Western interests but also Western values.

Egypt's revolutionaries of today appear far less threatening, representing a broad spectrum of Internet-savvy youth, mainstream politicians and Islamists bound together by hatred of President Hosni Mubarak and a desire for a more open, democratic system. The closest thing to a symbol of Egypt's uprising was a 30-year-old Google executive, whose passionate, tearful remarks made on a private television station after his release from detention drove many modern-thinking, middle-class Egyptians into the streets.

Nevertheless, the images from Tehran a generation ago and from Cairo on Friday's "Night of Liberation" were uncannily familiar. The palpable sense of relief. The euphoria among the government's opponents. The carnival-like atmosphere. The explosion of national pride. And the blind faith that the new regime would be more just, more equitable and more democratic than the old.

Iran's masses were no less hungry for democracy than the Egyptians who crowded into Cairo's central Tahrir Square to demand an end to Mubarak's rule. Where the Iranians put their trust in Muslim clerics to bring about a just and equitable society, the Egyptians turned to the secular-minded army to give the Mubarak regime a final push.

Slideshow: Exiled: Images of global tyranny (on this page)

Egypt's young revolutionaries used the tools of the 21st century — the Internet, Facebook and Twitter — to organize the first protests in late January. After the government unplugged the Internet and shut down mobile phones, Egyptians turned to Arabic language television stations — Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Alhurra — for word of what was happening on the streets.

No such technological wonders were available to the Iranian opposition. Messages and sermons from Ayatollah Khomeini, who was in exile in Paris until the final days of the uprising, were spread by cassette tapes that were smuggled into the country, copied and distributed to mosques throughout the country.

From the mosques, information spread by word of mouth through a nationwide network of clerics and intellectuals who grew ever bolder as the shah's security services began to disintegrate.

Instead of turning to the likes of Al-Jazeera for news, Iranians relied on crackling shortwave broadcasts by the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Persian language service, which the shah's government tried repeatedly to jam. At one time or another, nearly every Western journalist in Iran pretended to be from the BBC when confronted by protesters who were sometimes hostile to Americans. Every Khomeini supporter seemed to know how to say in English: "Ah, you BBC? BBC very good."

Tehran University was transformed into a giant speaker's corner, where people could come every day to listen to anti-regime clerics rail against the shah and his American backers.

Image: Jimmy Carter, Shah of Iran
Joe Caneva  /  AP
President Jimmy Carter walks with the Shah of Iran outside the White House on Nov. 15, 1977.

It took Egypt's demonstrators only 18 days to force out Mubarak, who had ruled the country for nearly three decades. Although arson and looting broke out briefly in late January — presumably instigated by state security to frighten the public and discredit the protests — the anti-Mubarak movement was remarkably peaceful and disciplined. Most of the violence appeared instigated by the police and thugs believed paid by the ruling party, who ran wild for a few days until the army reined them in.

Banks closed and ATMs ran out of cash. Groceries began running short on supplies. By and large, however, life in much of the capital continued as it had before — even as crowds in Tahrir Square grew ever larger.

Not so the Iranian uprising. It began in January 1978 with street demonstrations against the shah. By the end of the year, the country was paralyzed by strikes and demonstrations. Government ministries all but ceased functioning. Airlines stopped flying to Tehran. With a daily 9 p.m. curfew, which was brutally enforced in the capital, Iranians huddled in their dark, unheated homes, listening to the periodic bursts of gunfire that punctuated the night.

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Protesters grew ever more violent. The shah's Imperial Guard did not hesitate to fire on unarmed demonstrators, some of whom were willing — sometimes even eager — for martyrdom. Comrades would cheer and shout "martyr" as their fellow protesters fell to gunfire.

Violence was not limited to government forces. Young demonstrators hurled firebombs — gasoline poured into soft drink bottles and lit with a rag — at the Guardsmen. A police colonel was dragged from his car and beaten into a fatal coma as protesters ripped off parts of his uniform and threw them into the trees.

Food supplies, electricity and cooking gas were scarce.

As chaos engulfed Tehran, the shah left on Jan. 16, 1979, leaving the government in the hands of his appointed prime minister. Khomeini returned two weeks later to a massive reception by millions of people.

Less than two weeks after Khomeini returned, air force technicians at a base in Tehran mutinied, setting off a day and night of street fighting. A monarchial system that had lasted for more than 2,000 years crumbled.

Egypt's revolt achieved its main goal — Mubarak's ouster — before the conflict had torn apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

After Mubarak resigned Friday, Egyptians partied in the streets, waved huge flags, set off fireworks and sang patriotic songs until dawn.

Three decades before, the collapse of the shah's regime triggered three terrifying days of looting, arson and street fighting. Pro-Khomeini groups stormed prisons and police stations, looting weapons and hunting down Imperial Guardsmen and other members of the old regime. The yearlong revolution had polarized society and built up tensions that exploded as the Khomeini loyalists struggled to restore order.

A fanatical mullah broadcast a call on state radio to hunt down and punish foreigners, prompting Khomeini's staff to issue a counter order to protect non-Iranians. Rival militias seized the Intercontinental Hotel, home to most foreign journalists, until Khomeini loyalists arrived and ran them off.

The shah's regime resisted the demands of the street and collapsed, setting in motion social and political forces that still trouble the country and the region a generation later. Mubarak stepped down, and the world now waits to see if the fallout will be different.


Robert H. Reid, Middle East Regional Editor for The Associated Press, has covered the region since 1978.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: With past swept away, Egypt sees ‘new beginning’

Photos: Exiled: Images of global tyranny

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  1. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran Exile: Egypt, dead

    A reformer installed by Allied forces wary of his predeccessor’s ties to Germany, the shah, shown in 1939 with his fiancee, Princess Fawzia of Egypt, was a close ally of the West throughout his years in power. Buoyed by oil wealth, he exercised absolute authority in the country, employing a secret police to suppress dissenters and holding lavish ceremonies to celebrate the monarchy. After several protesting students were killed by army forces, resistance to the Shah’s regime swelled, culminating in the return of Ayatollah Khomeini. Early in 1979, the shah fled Iran. He died in Egypt in 1980 at the age of 60. (Fox Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anastasio Somoza Debayle of Nicaragua Exile: Paraguay, dead

    The son of Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Garcia, Somoza Debayle was the acting commander of the National Guard before his father was assassinated. He became president in 1967 and brutally fended off assaults by the Marxist Sandinista National Liberation Front. After a hostage standoff with the guerrillas, Somoza Debayle, shown in 1978, instituted a state of siege, souring relations with the United States. As the country spiraled into revolution in 1979 , he took refuge in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Idi Amin of Uganda Exile: Saudi Arabia, dead

    Amin, a military leader who overthrew Uganda’s president in 1966, is thought to have been responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths during his eight-year reign. An eccentric and callous dictator, he reportedly engaged in cannibalism, and he demanded to be called “Big Daddy.” The U.S. stopped the flow of aid to Uganda in 1972; a few years later, Amin, shown in 1975, allegedly collaborated with Palestinian hijackers who held Israeli airline passengers hostage in an attack. He was ousted by Tanzanian forces and Ugandan exiles in 1979. He died in Saudi Arabia in 2003. (Sigurd Bo Bojesen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti Exile: Haiti, alive

    Known as “Baby Doc,” the Haitian dictator has recently been charged with corruption and embezzlement stemming from his 15-year rule. Tens of thousands of Haitians are thought to have been executed during the 30-year period when he and his father, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, ruled the desperately poor nation. Despite his brutal regime –implemented with the aid of a private police force -- his opposition to communism generally won him the backing of the United States until the Reagan administration pressured him to step down in the mid-1980s. He lived in exile in France for almost a quarter-century before a stunning return to his homeland after the earthquake that rocked it last year. (Bachrach / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines Exile: Honolulu, dead

    Marcos, an authoritarian ruler who presided over almost a decade of martial law in the Philippines, jailed his political opponents and suspended habeas corpus during the 1970s. As an early defender of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, he enjoyed the backing of the U.S. government for much of his presidency until the Reagan administration rolled back its support. After his re-election in February 1986, his supporters were accused of massive voter fraud, and Marcos, shown announcing a state of siege in February 1986, fled his homeland. He was indicted by the U.S. government on racketeering charges, but he died in exile in Honolulu in 1989 at the age of 72 before the case came to trial. (Toledo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Alfredo Sroessner of Paraguay Exile: Brazil, dead

    Sroessner – who dubbed himself “El Excelentisimo” – ruled Paraguay for more than three decades after he came to power in a 1954 coup. A government characterized by corruption and payoffs made the country a safe haven for arms dealers and smugglers, and dissidents were frequently tortured. Stroessner, shown in 1955, was an anti-Communist who supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and his brutal policies went largely unchecked by American officials who only occasionally spoke out against his tactics. He was ousted in a bloody military coup in 1989 while he was recovering from surgery; he died in Brasilia in 2006 at the age of 93. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Erich Honecker of East Germany Exile: Santiago, Chile, dead

    Honecker oversaw the building of the Berlin Wall before coming to power as the leader of East Germany in 1971. Citing health problems but also losing support from the Soviet Union in the years of glasnost, the Communist leader stepped down after 18 years in power amid massive protests against his administration. After the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, he was arrested on charges of treason and manslaughter; the trial was never completed, and Honecker, shown leaving the Chilean Embassy in Moscow in 1992, fled to Chile, where he died in 1994 at the age of 81. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Hissen Habre of Chad Exile: Senegal, alive

    Habre was supported by the United States and France in driving Libyan forces out of the disputed Aozou territory in the 1980s. During his eight years in power, Habre, shown in 1986, stifled opposition from ethnic groups; political prisoners held in his police force’s detention centers were allegedly tortured with electric shocks, starvation and burns. Habre was forced from power in 1990. His government is accused of carrying out tens of thousands of politically motivated killings. He lives in exile in Senegal. (Dominique Faget / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia Exile: Zimbabwe, alive

    After helping to overthrow the Ethiopian monarchy, Mengistu, shown in 1977, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of intellectuals and professionals during the “Red Terror” years in the 1970s. He attempted to mold the country into a communist state in the style of the Soviet Union, which gave billions of dollars in military aid to Ethiopia in the 1980s. He fled to Zimbabwe after his regime was overthrown in 1991. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Raoul Cedras of Haiti Exile: Panama, alive

    Army chief Gen. Raoul Cedras served as the de facto ruler of Haiti in the early 1990s after leading a coup to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Under pressure from the United States, which was poised to invade the country if he did not step down and allow Aristide to return to power, Cedras resigned in 1993 in exchange for amnesty for himself and his family. Cedras, shown in 1993, lives in exile in Panama. (Mark Philips / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo Exile: Morocco, dead

    A dictator known for his trademark leopard-skin hat, Mobutu ran a regime so corrupt that it gave rise to the term “kleptocracy.” His personal wealth has been estimated at as much as $5 billion. Like other anti-communist despots of the time, he benefitted from American backing because he was seen as a key ally against Cold War enemies. But Western leaders largely dropped their support for him after he ordered a massacre of students, and he was eventually driven from power in 1997 after a militia backed by neighboring Rwanda trounced government forces. He died in exile in Morocco in September 1997 at the age of 66. (COR / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Charles Taylor of Liberia Exile: Nigeria, alive

    Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after leading a guerrilla force that toppled the regime of President Samuel Doe. During his rule, he reportedly sold weapons and supplies to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Under pressure to step down by the Bush administration, Taylor, shown in 1990, resigned in 2003 and flew to Nigeria. He is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crimes charges linked to his backing of the insurgents in Sierra Leone. (Francois Rojon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia Exile: Saudi Arabia, alive

    Ben Ali came to power in November 1987, six weeks after becoming prime minister, when he arranged for president-for-life Habib Bourguiba to be declared senile. He was credited with ensuring political stability, and his portrait adorned practically every shop and public building in Tunisia. But Tunisians chafed under his iron-fisted rule, and soaring unemployment and corruption fueled tension that came to a head in December 2010 when an unlicensed street vendor set himself on fire to protest against the police, who had stopped him from trading. The protests that began after his death spread to other towns and eventually the capital, and Ben Ali was forced to flee on Jan. 14. It was unclear whether Saudi Arabia would allow him to stay. (Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt Exile: Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, alive

    Mubarak came to power in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He was a staunch ally of the U.S., which over the years gave Egypt’s military billions of dollars in aid. But Mubarak’s autocratic rule was marked by widespread repression and poverty, and the nation’s security forces were accused of torture. Inspired in part by the overthrow of the Tunisian government, tens of thousands of Egyptians staged protests demanding Mubarak’s ouster and democratic elections. After 18 days of mostly peaceful demonstrations, Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011, and fled to the Egyptian luxury resort of Sharm el Sheikh. He vowed that he would not be forced into exile outside of the country, saying he would die on Egyptian soil. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Shah Of Iran
    Fox Photos / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (14) Exiled: Images of global tyranny
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