While Musk is making “a good gesture by trying to provide Starlink services to Iranians,” the Iranian government will unlikely allow “any hardware facilitating unrestricted connection to the Internet into the country”. Writes Anna Mahjar-Barducci
“We will fight, we will die, we will take Iran back” and “Mullahs must get lost,” Iranian demonstrators keep chanting. On September 23, in response to the regime’s cutting off mobile Internet, the State Department tried to take some measures to help the protestors, issuing a “General License” that would allow a general category of services and hardware not to be under sanctions. After the announcement, Elon Musk immediately tweeted: “Activating Starlink”.
Yet, the Saudi-owned media outlet Iran International raised doubt about the efficacy of the license: “Neither US official clarified how Iranians might buy the ‘flat user terminal’ required for Starlink satellite access, nor how Iranians would afford a $495 installation fee and $85-a-month subscription.”
Furthermore, Iran International noted that while Musk is making “a good gesture by trying to provide Starlink services to Iranians,” the Iranian government will unlikely allow “any hardware facilitating unrestricted connection to the Internet into the country”. It is also worth noting that the Iranian Ministry of Communications already blocked access to the Starlink website.
It Is Hard To Say What The West Has Done To Support Freedom In Iran
It looks as though, once again, the West’s help to the Iranian people not only “may have limited benefit”, but also that it is too little and too late. Protests in Iran have been going on for more than a year and a half, but this did not prevent the West from continuing dialogue with Tehran to reach an agreement on the nuclear deal, disregarding the regime’s violations of human rights and its support for terror. In fact, back in August, it was leaked from the negotiations in Vienna that, on the first day of the deal’s approval, the West was ready to revoke three executive orders issued by former US president Donald Trump, which would mean that sanctions would be lifted from 17 Iranian banks and 150 Iranian institutions, and that $7 billion in frozen funds would return to the Iranian regime. Furthermore, it was reported in May that sanctioned Iranian oil may be allowed onto global markets in the future.
It is hard to say what the West has done to support freedom in Iran over the years, as the West appears to have assisted the regime more than its people. On a personal note, I was invited in 2006 to participate in an event in Ankara, Turkey, on “Women’s Empowerment in the Broader Middle East and North Africa,” sponsored by the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). To my surprise, the Iranian women that were invited were all members of the government. I remember that, during a bus trip around Ankara, they forced the driver to stop so they could disembark before reaching the Anıtkabir, which is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as they did not want to set foot on the grounds of a monument dedicated to the promoter of secularism in Turkey.
“Woman, Life, Freedom”
Instead, it would have been nice to have found among the participants of that conference women like renowned Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar, whose parents were killed atrociously during the chain murders of Iranian intellectuals perpetrated by the Iranian regime in the late 1990s. Parastou’s father Dariush, founder of the Hezb-e Mellat-e Iran (“Iran Nation’s Party”), and his wife Parvaneh were brutally murdered and their bodies were mutilated. The Forouhars were killed under Khatami’s presidency, even though the key figures appointed under the Hashemi Rafsanjani presidency were still active inside the government. Parastou Forouhar, known for denouncing the regime’s violence through her artwork, is a critic to the compulsory hijab, supporting the slogan of the Iranian demonstrators: “Woman, life, freedom.”
Of course, the Western media, which espouse “politically correctness,” have a hard time seeing Iranian women liberating themselves from headscarves. This has been true for years. In 2012, the New York Times published an op-ed, titled “The Freedom of the Hijab,” in which the author intended to convince the reader that the hijab is a feminist victory over the patriarchy. “My hijab liberates me… I needed to declare to the world on my birthday this year that henceforth I am a hijabi… I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women,” the op-ed read.
“My People Call For Freedom”
It is becoming clear that if Iranian people want change, they will have to do it on their own. The West will not help. In 2021, one of the songs that was used as the background music to some of the Iranian demonstrations’ videos was the song, “Patria y Vida” (“homeland and life”; the inversion of the Cuban Revolution slogan “Patria o Muerte,” “homeland or death”), which was associated with the July 2021 Cuban protests.
In fact, in the same days that the Iranian people were demonstrating for food, water, and rights, the Cuban people were doing the same, as the demands for freedom resonated loud and clear from Havana to Teheran. “No more lies. My people call for freedom, no more doctrines. We no longer shout homeland or death, homeland and life instead. And start building what we’ve dreamed of. What they destroyed with their hands. Stop the bloodshed, for wanting to think differently,” sings “Patria y Vida.”
Yet, in May the White House announced measures to re-engage with Cuba, which surprised the Cuban opposition, which immediately shouted “vergüenza [shame]” at the US for keeping the dictatorship alive. This is the same approach that the West is adopting for the ayatollah’s regime.
Shame On You!
The good news is that the Islamic republic is a dying regime, whose ideology is no longer appealing to the people. As Norman Roule, who worked for the CIA for 34 years, put it: “Whether the regime collapses or transitions deeper into autocracy is uncertain, but its inability to attract supporters outside of militias underscores its destiny on History’s dust heap.” Yet, it is clear that, if the regime collapses, it will be thanks to the will of the courageous people of Iran, instead, if the country transitions into more autocracy, it will surely be caused by the West’s will to “re-engage” with the Islamic republic.
“Vergüenza,” or as they say in Farsi: “خجالت بکش [khejâlat bekesh, shame on you!]”
Anna Mahjar-Barducci is a MEMRI Senior Research Fellow.
This article is republished from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).