The West is failing the Iranian people
Under mounting pressure from their constituencies and faced with the agitation of the Iranian diaspora, Western governments are presenting themselves as in solidarity with the Iranian protesters who have been on the streets since September.
The magnitude of the tidal wave of change in Iran warranted a proportionate response by the international community. The diaspora, notwithstanding its characteristic disconnect with everyday life in Iran, was determined to prod world leaders into action and sought not only statements of solidarity, but also political commitments. Namely, it wants the delegitimising of the government in Tehran and its further isolation.
The rhetoric of ‘support’ from world leaders has certainly been noted. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leveraging his popularity, said in a statement on the International Day of the Girl that Iranian women “have the right to live their lives, to make their own choices, and to express themselves peacefully. We are standing with them.” A couple of weeks later, he joined the expats in Ottawa for a protest, pledging “[w]e will stand with you. I’ll march with you, I will hold hands with you. We will continue to stand with this beautiful community.”
''These ill-advised sanctions which are hitting the wrong targets, namely a civilian population already facing the strains of its government’s protectionism and years of lingering isolation, have mainly fulfilled the mission of disenfranchising a civil society that is the sole driver of social change.''
The US President Joe Biden has been similarly outspoken, denouncing the Iranian government for its recourse to violence and the crippling internet blackout it has been rolling out. “The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery,” he said, on the third week of the protests.
On the European Parliament floor, messages of condemnation have been pouring in and symbolic acts of female politicians chopping off locks of their hair to share the bereavement of the Iranian women have burgeoned. And new punitive measures have been introduced in the form of sanctions targeting entities and individuals designated separately by the United States, European Union and Canada, so as to raise the costs of repression for the Islamic Republic.
The US government specifically affirmed that striking a new Joint Comprehensive Action deal with Iran is not a priority anymore and that the once-coveted agreement has been pushed to the peripheries, and it is the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people that will be the focus.
To respond to the various social, political and cultural developments in Iran, the international community has traditionally relied on vehicles of coercive engagement that over time have not facilitated social progress. In fact, they have worked in the exact opposite direction, debilitating civil society and narrowing the window of positive change.
Indeed, the engineers of these measures have rarely critically evaluated the functionality of their modus operandi and continue backsliding to practices that have turned out time and again to be miscarrying. The German Federal Foreign Office, in response to what is happening in Iran and the government’s use of brute force, has introduced a tapestry of restrictive policies, which include limiting the presence of German cultural institutions in Tehran.
Young Iranian students, including women who wish to enrol in language classes or receive academic training and pursue their studies in Germany are now being vengefully targeted. This is one of multiple examples of how the prospects and ideals of the Iranians have been betrayed in the name of offering support to them.
The way young Iranians have been treated in the European immigration system, even in the aftermath of the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 is not just deplorable from a humanitarian perspective. It belies the very frameworks of the immigration policies promulgated by these states, often conflicting with the desires of academic and cultural institutions in these countries seeking new talent from resourceful countries.
In 2021, the embassies of Belgium, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden in Tehran rejected the visa applications of 51.71%, 31.04%, 21.68%, 27.05% and 34.72% of Iranian applicants respectively, including hundreds of student visa requests. If these rejections are any guide to how the European Union nations chart their Iran policy, there is little hope.
The sanctions that have been touted for years as the sole leverage for dealing with the Iranian regime have at no time been targeted. They have been blanket, wholesale chokeholds on an entire population of 85 million, impinging on every aspect of their daily life. And the outcome is that Iranians should struggle to access food and life-saving medical supplies, and nominal exemptions for humanitarian trade only constitute a fantasy.
Ironically, the mastermind of Iran’s nuclear adventurism and a gross violator of human rights, the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not on the US and Canadian governments’ sanctions list. However, the former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who was trying to be an incubator of dialogue between Iran and the international community, and is credited with co-authoring a landmark nuclear non-proliferation accord, is sanctioned by both governments.
These ill-advised sanctions which are hitting the wrong targets, namely a civilian population already facing the strains of its government’s protectionism and years of lingering isolation, have mainly fulfilled the mission of disenfranchising a civil society that is the sole driver of social change.
The advocates of the former US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy need do an honest reassessment of their dead loss to see how the most radical elements of the establishment have been rejuvenated as a result of that cataclysmic policy-making.
Those clamorous voices in the Iranian diaspora presently insisting that time has come for hell to break loose and that all diplomatic ties with Iran should be severed by the Western governments, probably don’t have any qualms about 85 million people being pitched into an abyss. It is not over-stretching to understand no diplomatic relations means even less accountability by a cornered government and further evasion of opportunities for those living within their borders.
The onus is on reasonable leaders in the international community to make a choice between listening to the most reactionary voices of the diaspora whose fortunes and resources are elsewhere, or living up to their promise of supporting the Iranian people struggling for their rights inside Iran. It is not unrealistic to say they have failed.
Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist and reporter. He is the Iran correspondent of Fair Observer and Asia Times. He is the recipient of a Chevening Award from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and an American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford Fellowship.
Follow him on Twitter @KZiabari
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