Iran ‘outsmarted itself’ in silencing civil society?


Iran in large part considers peaceful activism a “threat to national security,” and those who warn about festering popular grievances and rampant corruption are treated as seditionists, notes Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch. Without the safety valve of civil society and political activism, it is not surprising that many people are taking to the streets in pure frustration and anger, she writes for Carnegie’s Sada Journal:

Will the authorities learn from these events that the right to association and peaceful assembly is a healthy and necessary part of a functioning society? The government response so far has been disappointing—dusting off the well-worn playbook of claiming a foreign conspiracy while immediately detaining known student activists, the very people who are best placed to voice the demands through organized peaceful channels.

Ultimately, smart support for the Iranian people, and for our strategic interest in a less threatening Iran, lies in keeping the onus on the Iranian regime, according to William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace [and National Endowment for Democracy board member] and Jake Sullivan, a former director of policy planning at the State Department.

Credit: Wikipedia

Balancing different tools is the hallmark of effective U.S. diplomacy, as President Ronald Reagan demonstrated in managing hard-nosed arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union while simultaneously pressing human rights concerns and mobilizing international pressure against dangerous Soviet behavior. That’s not a bad model to follow at a moment when Iran’s internal contradictions are becoming more evident, they write for the Washington Post.

But the rhetorical downgrading of democracy promotion raises the question as to whether America’s moral legitimacy and authority is a renewable resource, Brookings analyst Shadi Hamid writes for The Atlantic.

To best support this fledgling political movement in Iran, the United States should provide it the tools to sustain itself in the face of suppression and ultimately grow into a democratic opposition, argues Blaise Misztal, director of national security at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Statements of solidarity are important. The punitive measures against Iran’s leadership that have been suggested, such as the use of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions, can play a role in trying to dissuade the regime from further violence against protesters, he writes for The Hill:

To provide concrete support to those in Iran who seek liberty, justice and accountability, President Trump should call for the return of the Iran Democracy Fund and Congress should immediately pass emergency appropriations at the level originally requested by President Bush. These should be specifically allocated to providing unfettered access to the internet and communications channels, broadcasting in Persian, and training and supporting civil society organizations inside Iran.

Members of Iran’s coercive apparatus have long been noted for their zeal in suppressing dissidents. In recruiting personnel for the NAJA and similar organs, the regime has historically drawn from the Basij, who mostly hail from traditional lower- and lower-middle-class families and tend to be less educated, notes Saeid Golkar, a visiting assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a nonresident senior fellow on Iran policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

Since 2000, all IRGC members have been recruited from established Basij and IRGC families, and the police are trending in the same direction. According to the NAJA chief, more than 80 percent of new police personnel hired in 2007 were selected from the Basij, and in 2011 he pledged to increase that figure to 100 percent. The security apparatus, including the Intelligence Ministry and IRGC-IO, mainly recruit from seminary schools, though they too draw from the Basij at times (and many seminary students are Basij members).


In light of this background, many police and Basij personnel (right) had no qualms about brutally suppressing the Green Movement, acting on the hatred and anger they felt toward opposition activists whom they perceived as members of the upper and upper-middle class, he writes for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

It is unclear how much these sentiments are in play during the current unrest, since analysts indicate that many protestors in outlying provinces hail from the lower classes themselves, unlike in 2009. Yet the regime has made sure to complement the homogeneous socioeconomic background of its security personnel with massive levels of indoctrination in order to ensure their loyalty, reaffirm their conservative beliefs, and make them more inclined to support the clerical leadership over any opposition movement, regardless of class. In the end, the latest protests are unlikely to succeed as long as Iran’s security organs retain the capacity and desire for suppression. Yet both elements could be undermined by several variables, including internal division among regime elites, extended protests, and international pressure over human rights violations.

In response to the protests, five Iranian labor organizations released a statement calling for “an end to poverty and misery” in the country and urging the government to enact economic reforms, Murtaza Hussain writes for The Intercept. But while labor groups have supported the protests, it is unclear to what extent they have been involved in actually directing them. The ability of independent civil society groups to publicly organize in Iran is greatly constrained by the government.

The most significant protests in Iran since 2009 have endured for nearly a week, spreading to more and more cities, large and small, with each passing day, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted during a conversation (above) on The Iran Protests: Implications for the Islamic Republic and Beyond:

The discussion featured Iran experts Reuel Marc Gerecht, senior fellow at FDD and a former Iran specialist at the CIA; Mariam Memarsadeghi, co-founder and co-director of Tavaana and an advocate for human rights and democracy, particularly in Islamic contexts; Ray Takeyh, Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at FDD.

Ray Takeyh and FDD’s Mark Dubowitz argue in a WSJ op-ed that as “the events on the streets unfold, their most immediate casualty will be the presidency of Hassan Rouhani … who pledged to revive the economy, and used the nuclear agreement to lift debilitating sanctions and stimulate commerce.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email