Protests against the Iranian regime have dragged on for almost a week now in every major city across the country. Over 20 people have been killed, mostly by the notoriously violent Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) who have been dispatched to deal with rioters, though President Rouhani at least verbally maintains that peaceful protestors have a right to publicly demonstrate.
It has prompted President Donald Trump, and other prominent US political figures to tacitly stoke the flames of revolution against the Iranian government that they despise under a thin veil of ‘humanitarian concern’.
It is difficult to take this at face value when looking at America’s approach to Iran since 1950s which shamelessly put the lives of ordinary Iranians at the bottom of a pile of exercises in extreme RealPolitik designed to grab Iranian resources and stifle any regional influence the country has built. Under Trump, concern for Iranians has plummeted even further as he promised to renegotiate the terms of the nuclear deal – which Iran have always complied with – and possibly bring back sanctions.
Trump, perhaps hoping that everyone has forgotten about the pledge to reintroduce sanctions made just months ago which caused the economic strife that kick-started this political unrest, still managed put on his best ‘sincere concern for human rights’ mask and switch his usual Twitter points of interest, from Rosie O’Donnell’s weight and global warming being a hoax, to foment anger against the Iranian regime on Twitter. John McCain, who in 2007 famously remixed a Beach Boys’ hit to incorporate the lyrics ‘bomb, bomb Iran’, was also recently filled with a profound heartache for the citizenry of Iran which definitely wasn’t fuelled by any sort of personal agenda.
The Iranian regime, whilst at least vaguely democratic and far more liberal than every other nation it borders, is certainly authoritarian with a particularly terrible record towards minority rights and freedom of speech. The violence towards protestors coupled with the shutdown of social media avenues used by dissidents should certainly be investigated by the UN Human Rights Council. However, it is a country capable of reform; indeed, over 28% of the popular vote and 8 out of 18 Ministers represent the Reformist party that call for a rerun of the 1979 referendum which established the Islamic Republic, with the view to move toward secularisation.
The US continue to vehemently back their Saudi allies across the Persian Gulf – who, on the face of it, trail Iranian humanitarian progress in democracy, gender/racial equality and workers’ rights by several hundreds of years – because of the apparent ‘stability’ that the Saudi leadership brings to the region (forgetting the famine they are imposing on their neighbours in Yemen). The contrast of US approach between these two nations dissolves any facade of ‘humanitarian concerns’; Iranian dissent is encouraged because the Iranian government hate the US, Saudi dissent is very quickly stifled because the Saudi government are endlessly loyal to the US.
Western media outlets have ridiculed President Rouhani’s ‘conspiracy theories’ of covert Western intervention whilst contradicting this stance by endlessly parroting uncharacteristically bipartisan Washington support for radical regime change in Iran. Clintons, Trumps, McCains etc. all took to Twitter this week to voice their support for a potential uprising. The irony that this all occurs during a Watergate-scale investigation into foreign ‘meddling’ in US democracy to rob Hillary Clinton of the Presidency is notably lost on Clinton herself, who Tweeted in support of the protestors.
In further evidence of Rouhani’s supposed conspiracy theories, various Wikileaks cables have documented intense Western efforts to incite past dissident movements in Iran. A January 2010 cable from Dubai to Washington claimed that UK and US agents were ‘guiding’ the ‘rioters’ (the cable uses quote marks for the word rioters) and colluded with the BBC and Voice of America to spread the contrived call for regime change to the rest of the world.
A lot has changed since 2010, but the studied effort by Western voices to manufacture consent for a war on the Iranian bogeyman has only grown stronger, especially with a new President at the helm who unashamedly wishes to roll back any basic diplomatic avenues to prevent conflict and promote dialogue between Iran and the West. It would be naive to assume that the kind of manipulation documented in the 2010 Wikileaks cables is not goading the riots taking place today.
Iranians are exercising the right to protest their government, and we should all wish them the best of luck in doing so. However, there is clearly a laboured interest by Western (predominantly US) forces to take advantage of political dissidence within the country to achieve their long-held geopolitical aims towards the ‘rogue nation’ of Iran. It does no favours to Iranians to allow McCain, Trump, Clinton et al. to have the final say on the future of Iran. That right belongs exclusively to Iranians through their democratic process.