Ayatollah Khomeini and Gamal Abdul-Nasser Comparison


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Ayatollah Khomeini and Gamal Abdul-Nasser have both played an important role in the historical activities of the 20th century in the Middle East. This is because their leadership was revolutionary, and they played a role in changing the various governments that existed in Egypt, and Iran. It is important to understand that the regimes in Iran and Egypt were monarchies, at the time, and the two leaders led their followers in overthrowing these regimes. The revolutions in Iran and Egypt occurred under different contexts, or social backgrounds. For example, the revolution in Iran occurred when the country was enjoying economic and political prosperity. However, this assertion is contested. This is because at the time of the revolution, Iran was experiencing un-employment rate of approximately 30%[1]. Unemployment is one of the indicators of poor development and economic growth. Based on this fact, the assertion that Iran was politically and economically stable is false, and does not hold any ground.

On the other hand, the revolution in Egypt occurred when the country was experiencing a series of poor political and economic governance. Despite the differences in these revolutions, and the two leaders, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Ayatollah Khomeini shared a lot of similarities as well as differences in their leadership structure and system[2]. One major similarity is that the two leaders were charismatic, and they sought to eliminate any form of opposition to their leadership. For instance, Nasser ordered a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that was opposing his leadership, while Ayatollah Khomeini sought to kill any political supporters of the Shah. This paper takes a stand that both Ayatollah Khomeini and Gamal Abdul-Nasser were charismatic leaders, who influenced their societies and people, despite their undemocratic systems of governance.

Differences and Similarities between Abdel Nasser and Ayatollah Khomeini:

Gamal Abdul Nasser was the second Egyptian president, and he began his presidency in the year 1956, to the time he died, which was in 1970. He played an instrumental role in the overthrow of the Egyptian monarch in the year 1952, and as a result, he was rewarded with a post, as a deputy prime minister[3]. This is an indication that Gamal Abdul Nasser was an important leader to the revolutionaries, and he was held in high esteem. Furthermore, the power and authority that Gamal Abdul Nasser had is depicted when he managed to arrest President Muhammad Naguib, and place him under house arrest. This is an authority that a deputy prime minister cannot possess, and this is because the President is the head of the state and government. President Muhammad Naguib was a president by name, but he did not have real authority[4].

In the year 1956, a public referendum was able to grant him the presidency, and the adoption of the Egyptian constitution. Ayatollah Khomeini on the other hand, does not have any military background, but he was a religious scholar. He used religion to control his people, and consolidate power, after the revolution. One of the leadership styles of Abdul Nasser and Ayatollah Khomeini was authoritarianism[5]. President Nasser wanted complete loyalty from his subjects, and he did not condone any form of opposition. This is depicted in the manner in which he handled President Naguib, and this is because they had different ideological beliefs. Nasser was able to depose President Naguib, and he ordered an onslaught on thousands of people who were opposed to him. Nasser was able to take advantage of an attempted assassination on him, to crack down on any political opposition that he faced. This is depicted when he was able to dismiss and arrest any supporter of President Naguib, who was in the army or the civil service.

This is despite these people playing no role in his attempted assassination, or even having no links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, President Naguib was placed under house arrest, and no trial was held to find out whether he had a role in this attempted assassination or not. This is an indication, that the government did not have any proof that the President played a role in the assassination of Gamal Nasser, however, it was a mechanism of ensuring that the opponents of Gamal were removed, so that he could transcend to power easily. The authoritarian nature of Nasser is further seen when he is trying to restrict the freedom of expression and information.

Nasser was able to impose a series of controls on the media and press of the country. This is by issuing a decree that any publication had to acquire the approval of the governing party, which was referred to as the National Union. The major aim of these censures was to prevent the publication of any information that could compromise the character of Abdel Nasser and his leadership. This is a major characteristic of authoritarian regimes. Almost all authoritarian regimes normally prevent a free flow of information. This is as the case of Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. On assumption of leadership, the Ayatollah Khomeini was able to regulate any information that the media was providing[6]. He did not tolerate any criticism or opposition to his rule. Furthermore, he used the media to create a personality cult that revolved around him.

The media therefore played an instrumental role in raising the profiles of Ayatollah Khomeini and President Nasser. This is because they regulated information, for purposes of depicting only the aspects that were favorable to them. Regulation of the media is an important characteristic of states which are not democratic. In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini did not hide the fact that he hated democracy. Khomeini referred to democracy as corruption, and an aspect that can destroy a country. Therefore, Ayatollah Khomeini denoted that anybody who was seeking to promote democracy would be oppressed and hanged[7]. This is an indication that democracy was not a favorable style of governance for Khomeini. Furthermore, he used religion to justify his style of governance. Khomeini argues that religion does not support any form of democracy, and therefore god has commanded for its abolition, and oppression of anybody supporting or practicing democracy. Religion plays an important role in shaping the beliefs and values of people.

Khomeini realized this notion, and he therefore used religion to advance and protect his leadership. By citing the Quran, and using religious contexts such as the fatwa, Ayatollah Khomeini was able to consolidate his leadership. Fatwa was a religious term that indicated a death sentence to anybody who did not follow the provisions of Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini also did not accept any opposition, and he executed all his opponents, and the supporters of the Shah. Executions were the order of the day, during his leadership. By the time Khomeini was dying, he had executed approximately 30,000 people. Furthermore, Khomeini was able to oppress and ban political groups such as The Muslims Republican Party, and the National Democratic Front. This is because these groups were advocating for democratic reforms, and good governance. These are policies that Khomeini did not want to pursue. Nasser on the other hand did not believe in executions, or killing of his political opponents.

All that he did was to exile or imprison his political opponents. A good example is President Naguib, whom he imprisoned, after which, he forced him to exile. Furthermore, unlike Khomeini, Nasser did not use religion to promote undemocratic behaviors. This is because he played a role in drafting the 1956 Egyptian constitution which did not recognize a multi-party system of governance. This constitution recognized Egypt as single party state, with the party under consideration called the National Union. This party dominated Egyptian politics, and nobody was permitted to vie for any political office, outside this party[8]. This is a characteristic of a state that is not democratic. Countries such as China, and the Soviet Union only allowed political competition within a one party system. Any competition outside the party was restricted, and not allowed. A one party system is normally used to advance the interests and aspirations of the people controlling the party.

This is the reason Abdel Nasser was able to influence the constitution so that it could create a one party system of governance. Furthermore, he was in control of the party, and hence he was assured of its leadership, if the constitution was passed through a popular initiative. Furthermore, in 1965, Abdel Nasser was able to use the courts in barring his political competitors from running for office. Through this action, President Nasser did not have any political competitors, and it ensured that he easily assailed to office. Ayatollah Khomeini also played a role in influencing the legal system of Iran. Take for example in the 1998 execution of political prisoners in Iran[9]. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree to all judicial courts to judge every political prisoner, and execute anybody who did not repent on their anti-regime activities.

It is important to understand that despite the authoritarian and undemocratic leadership of these two leaders, they were highly influential and liked by their people. For example, after Abdel Nasser lost the six day war, and he resigned, he was forced back into office through a large and numerous protests. On the other hand, after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, his was well mourned, by millions and millions of people. This is mainly because their leadership was revolutionary in nature, and they introduced a series of changes and reforms in their countries. This includes constitutional changes and reforms.


In conclusion, the leadership style of President Nasser and Ayatollah Khomeini are similar and different in many aspects. One similarity is that both of them were revolutionaries. President Nasser sought to introduce a new constitution in Egypt, which was secular in nature. On the other hand, Ayatollah Khomeini introduced a new constitution in Iran, which was religious in nature, and it identified a Supreme Leader, who was supposed to be an Ayatollah. Another similarity is that both leaders were undemocratic, and did not tolerate any opposition to their leadership. They did not allow freedom of expression, by closing or regulating any content that appeared on the media.

In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini is accused of closing any media house that criticized his government. On the other hand, President Nasser used his National Union Party to regulate any content that appeared on the media. The two were also charismatic leaders, and they were able to get a lot of support from the citizens of their country. This is despite their oppressive and undemocratic rule. The major difference in their rule is the use of the military. Both of them were able to get the support of the military in advancing their agenda. However, President Nasser had a military background, and he used his military background to get the support of the army. Ayatollah Khomeini on the other hand used religion to get the support of the military and the people.


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