“The official line pursued by the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia [toward Iran] (…) is almost one that would lead us to war”. No, the author of this sentence was neither Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor the country’s President Hassan Rouhani. Those words came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who added that the line being taken by those countries “was a deliberate strategy for some” of them and could end up rebuilding an “axis of evil” context around Iran.
The comments followed the ongoing uprisings in Iran, which have begun on December 28. The protests – in which, according to the Washington Post, at least 21 people died and 3,700 were arrested – have both economic and political reasons. The economic growth is being affected by international sanctions (US sanctions on financial transactions with Iran are still in place), even though most sanctions have been removed after the nuclear deal in 2015; the inflation is still far from being defeated; the unemployment, especially the youth unemployment is very high and Iranian people are poorer. In fact, they are 15% poorer in real terms over the last ten years. All of this is in tandem with a feeling of flourishing corruption and increasing inequality, taking tens of thousands of protesters to the streets of Iran.
In the international political arena, the president of the U.S.A Donald Trump has certainly been the most enthusiastic about the demonstrations, not missing a single chance to comment on that on his beloved social media platform, Twitter. He demonstrated “respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back (…) [the] corrupt, brutal and corrupt Iranian regime” and promised “great support from the United States at the appropriate time”. As of this writing, in which concerns the Iranian upheavals, Trump had tweeted almost ten times, sharing with the world his opinion that “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice”. In reaction to the American’s position, both Iran and Russia condemned the interference “in a grotesque way in Iran’s internal affairs”.
Not less excited has been another opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One must remember the constant tension between Israel and Iran, proven by, for instance, the non-recognition of the former state by the latter (“It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once said.)
Using a similar rhetoric as Trump, “Bibi” said, in a recorded video message that “brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied them for decades. Iran’s cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate”, wishing “the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom”. Faced with the accusation made by both Ali Khamenei and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, blaming the USA and Israel for provoking the protests, Netanyahu answered that that was “not only false – it’s laughable”.
Also made by Trump when he accused the Iranian regime of “squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad”, Nethanyahu’s claim was, in fact, one of the things one could hear during the protests: some people showed their disapproval of Iranian’s support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (chanting “Leave Syria, remember us”) and to militant groups in countries like Palestine, Yemen, and Lebanon.
Turkey echoed the condemnation of what it sees as a meddling in Iran’s internal affairs, calling for stability in the country. Iran and Turkey are enjoying “their best bilateral relations” since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. “You may not like the regime but Iran’s president and government, apart from the [supreme] religious leader, can only be changed through elections” were the words of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who had some harsh remarks for the “two [world] figures who support protesters: Trump and Netanyahu” because “we [Turkey] are against such foreign interventions”.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, called Rouhani and echoed Çavuşoğlu, stressing that “obviously some people from abroad are provoking this situation”.
As we’ve seen before, the same tone was adopted by the Russian government, which has been, along with Turkey and Iran, the main promoter of the peace (and reconstruction) talks on the Syrian conflict. The Russian foreign ministry made clear that “external interference destabilizing the situation [in Iran] is inadmissible”. One must not forget that Russia and Iran have been working together in Syria in favor of Bashar Al-Assad. In addition, recently, during a visit to Tehran, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talked about the “very productive” relationship between the two countries, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explained that Moscow-Tehran “cooperation can isolate America”. The Iranian regime is a staunch anti-American one, having created (and popularized) the slogan “Death to America!”.
As for the European Union, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini called on “all concerned to refrain from violence”, remembering that EU defends the fundamental democratic rights. “For the EU, human rights have always been a core issue in our relationship with Iran. Peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that apply to every country, and Iran is no exception”, she said. Some days after, it was announced that the EU would invite Iran’s foreign minister for talks about the protests. The EU has been extremely committed to the Iranian nuclear deal: Mogherini, in her New Year’s blog post, wrote that the organization “will continue to work for the deal to be implemented by all sides”.
Several EU countries said they were closely following what was happening in Iran. The German government “appealed to the Iranian government to respect the demonstrators’ rights to freely and peacefully speak their voice”. In his turn, the British government called for “meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues that the protesters are raising, and we’re looking to the Iranian authorities to permit that”.
Pointing in the same direction was the declaration by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who regretted “the reported loss of life”, urged everyone to avoid “further violence” and affirmed his expectation “that the rights to peaceful assembly and expression of the Iranian people will be respected”.
Taking into consideration the way in which the situation in Iran has been unfolding, one can hardly say that things got better for the protesters with the encouragement by Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. On the contrary, it only contributed “to them ultimately being denounced in Iran as ‘foreign agents’” and “provided ammunition for the conservatives to crack down on the protesters and distract attention from the real problems that led to the uprising”.
Unfortunately, although Ali Khamenei has acknowledged that people’s grievances “must be dealt with”, “heard out (…) [and] answered as much as possible” (after, on Monday, Rouhani had said practically the same thing), the news coming from Iran is far from being promising. One thing is certain: The multiple reports of human rights violations and abuses cannot be ignored by the international community.
José Miguel DIAS ROCHA – Erasmus Volunteer of SASAM
 New York Times – “Macron Urges Dialogue With Iran, Rebukes U.S., Israel for Bellicose Comments”. 01/03/2018. https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2018/01/03/world/middleeast/03reuters-iran-rallies-macron.html
 “Axis of evil” was the expression used in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea, countries that, according to Bush, were responsible both for sponsoring terrorists and involvement with weapons of mass destruction.
 Washington Post – “Iran’s leader blames U.S. for unrest but says public demands ‘must be answered’”. 01/09/2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/irans-leader-blames-us-for-unrest-but-says-public-demands-must-be-answered/2018/01/09/7f1e9fde-f54b-11e7-beb6-c8d48830c54d_story.html?utm_term=.9684d9531c76
 BBC News – “Six charts that explain the Iran protests”. 01/04/2018. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42553516
 CNN – “Here’s why the Iran protests are significant”. 01/03/2018. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/30/world/iran-protests-issues/index.html
 The Independent – “Russia warns US not to interfere in Iran’s ‘domestic affairs’”. 01/04/2018. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-us-iran-protests-not-interfere-trump-putin-domestic-affairs-hassan-rouhani-a8141306.html
 The Atlantic – “The Iranian Regime on Israel’s Right to Exist “. 03/09/2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/Iranian-View-of-Israel/387085/
 Reuters – “Netanyahu wishes success to Iran protesters, denies Israeli involvement”. 01/01/2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-rallies-israel/netanyahu-wishes-success-to-iran-protesters-denies-israeli-involvement-idUSKBN1EQ0TM
 The Economist – “Protests have engulfed several cities in Iran”. 01/02/2018. https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21733398-clerics-are-struggling-control-widespread-unrest-protests-have-engulfed
 Adam Garrie – “Iran and Turkey: Not an Alliance but an Incredibly Meaningful Partnership”. 12/21/2017. https://orientalreview.org/2017/12/21/iran-turkey-not-alliance-incredibly-meaningful-partnership/
 Anadolu Agency – “Erdogan says France visit to improve bilateral ties”. 01/04/2018. http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/erdogan-says-france-visit-to-improve-bilateral-ties/1022873
 Reuters – “Commentary: Cracks in Russia-Iran alliance open options for Trump”. 01/08/2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cohen-iran-commentary/commentary-cracks-in-russia-iran-alliance-open-options-for-trump-idUSKBN1EX298
 The Guardian – “Iran’s Ayatollah clarifies that ‘death to America’ slogan refers to policies”. 11/03/2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/03/ayatollah-khamenei-iran-death-to-america
 Federica Mogherini – “Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the situation in Iran “. 01/02/2018. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/01/02/declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-situation-in-iran/
 Euractiv – “EU to invite Iranian foreign minister for talks over protests”. 01/08/2018. https://www.euractiv.com/section/european-external-action-service/news/eu-to-invite-iranian-foreign-minister-for-talks-over-protests/
 Federica Mogherini – “Twelve things to bring with us in 2018”. 01/01/2018. http://www.federicamogherini.net/twelve-things-to-bring-with-us-2018/?lang=en
 Deutsche Welle – “Iran: Germany urges restraint from violence”. 01/01/2018. http://www.dw.com/en/iran-germany-urges-restraint-from-violence/a-41992338
 Reuters – “Britain calls for meaningful debate in Iran – PM May’s spokesman “. 01/02/2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-rallies-may/britain-calls-for-meaningful-debate-in-iran-pm-mays-spokesman-idUSKBN1ER0T2
 United Nations News Center – “UN regrets reported loss of life amid Iranian protests”. 01/02/2018. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=58375
 Murat Yetkin – “Why is the US wrong and what is really happening in Iran?”. 01/02/2018. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/murat-yetkin/why-is-the-us-wrong-and-what-is-really-happening-in-iran-125084
 Nazila Fathi – “Will Iran’s Protests Help the Hard-Liners?”. 01/08/2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/opinion/iran-protests-hard-liners.html
 Ibid., 2.
 The Guardian – “Iran protests: deaths in custody spark human rights concerns“. 01/09/2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/09/iran-protests-deaths-custody-human-rights