In an op-ed from today's New York Times, Reuel Marc Gerecht makes this intuitively sensible point:
The reverse parallels here with the rest of the Islamic Middle East are striking. Where secular dictatorships rule, the best and the brightest are often attracted to the Islamist cause. The moral repugnance of these regimes trumps the appeal of their Westernization. Muslim fundamentalists often espouse democracy either because it is the only peaceful means of dethroning their rulers or because they really do believe that most Muslims are “good” Muslims. Democracy would make their societies more virtuous, they feel, more likely to preach and practice the traditional injunction to command good and forbid evil.
Until now, the Islamic Republic has had a propaganda heyday among devout Arabs, depicting itself as a virtuous state with a workable level of democracy — just enough to give the regime legitimacy and stability. Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament and the wicked genius behind the crushing of the reform movement during Mr. Khatami’s presidency, loves to emphasize Iran’s democracy when he travels abroad, always highlighting America’s preference for secular dictatorships.
Now the clerical regime can no longer make this argument. As Iranians have come to know theocracy intimately, secularism has become increasingly attractive. Iran now produces brilliant clerics who argue in favor of the separation of church and state as a means of saving the faith from corrupting power.
Indeed, Iranians are on the threshold of turning the Koran’s ethical injunction into a democratic commandment: nothing good can be commanded without a vote of the people. The democracy-supporting clerics of Iraq are trying to do the same thing, but the Iranians, much further advanced in their thinking about church and state, will surely be much bolder.
For this reason, one could argue, a revolution in Iran would be more friendly to liberalism than a revolution in a Muslim country like, say, Egypt. But of course all this is purely speculative. In the meantime, via Andrew, be sure to check out this video. It is only three minutes, and must be watched in full.