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An Iran-style outcome for Egypt? Why there are key differences.

The timing of Egyptian President Mubarak's exit could be crucial to bolstering moderate voices, analysts say. The Army has told protesters to return to 'normal life,' but the protests show little sign of abating.

By Staff Writer / February 2, 2011

Thousands of Egyptians wave Egyptian flags and posters supporting President Mubarak during a march in Cairo, Wednesday, Feb. 2. Thousands of people marched in support of Mubarak Wednesday morning, hours after he made a defiant speech promising to serve out the last months of his term and 'die on Egyptian soil.'

Ahmed Alil/AP

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Trying to salvage 30 years of authoritarian rule, Egypt’s embattled President Hosni Mubarak warned Egyptians near midnight on Tuesday that they faced a simple choice: “chaos” without him, or “stability” if he stayed on to September elections to manage a peaceful transition of power.

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And yet Mr. Mubarak is not the only one waving the flag of fear about the ultimate outcome of Egypt’s pro-democracy standoff.

In the West and in Israel, some politicians and pundits warn that Mubarak’s fall would yield a disastrous takeover by Islamic militants, similar to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran that transformed a pro-West regime into one marked by hatred for the US and Israel.

Egypt protests: People to watch

Experts who know both Iran and Egypt say there are distinct differences, however. They note one critical lesson from Iran’s revolution that should inform Mubarak’s handling of the crisis: so far, the Muslim Brotherhood – for decades Egypt’s largest opposition grouping – has played a small part in the protests, compared with the critical role that militant followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini played in Iran in 1979.

But a more important takeaway from Iran may be the events of Sept. 8, 1978, when security forces of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi fired on antigovernment demonstrators with helicopter gunships and tanks. The opposition claimed the death toll from Black Friday to be 4,000, with 500 dead in downtown Jaleh Square alone.

“If Mubarak stays for awhile [with US support] and there is a crackdown – then the dire predictions would come true,” says Ervand Abrahamian, a historian at Baruch College, City University of New York.

“In Iran, if the shah had been eased out earlier – before Jaleh Square – it would have been possible to have a compromise and peaceful transition,” says Mr. Abrahamian, author of “Iran Between Two Revolutions” and other books on Iranian history.

“After Bloody Friday, moderates were undercut and no possibility of peaceful transition could have occurred,” adds Abrahamian. “Similarly, a peaceful transition in Egypt is now possible, but if it is delayed and massive blood is shed then we will see the strengthening of extremists and the triumph of the die-hardists. The same people who wanted the shah to stay created the eventual disaster.”

Army tells protesters to return to 'normal life'

Washington has so far tread carefully with staunch ally Egypt, which has received tens of billions of dollars in US military and other aid since signing a peace deal with Israel in 1979. President Obama spoke with Mubarak for 30 minutes late on Tuesday, then announced that an “orderly transition” of power in Egypt “must begin now.”

The Egyptian Army – which has stated it supports “legitimate demands” of the protesters and would not fire on them – on Wednesday morning called for an end to the demonstrations. “Your message has arrived, your demands became known…you are capable of bringing normal life to Egypt,” said a military spokesman.

On Wednesday there was no sign that the protests would diminish, much less end. Tens of thousands of protesters across Egypt reacted angrily to Mubarak's speech Tuesday night, raising the volume of their demands for his immediate exit even before he finished speaking.

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