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How Western governments can help the Iranian people

1 February 2023

The murder of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman from Iran, has brought the country into a new political phase. Unlike previous demands for regime reform that have been expressed for nearly a quarter of a century, from the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997 to that of Hassan Rohani, the current popular movement calls for a change of regime and directly targets the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

These calls have important implications for Western policy towards Iran – particularly when part of the Iranian opposition (most notably some US-based groups) openly call for more direct Western powers’ involvement. These groups have been contacting Western politicians to ask them to recognize the ‘Iranian revolution’, to break diplomatic relations with Iran, to recall the ambassadors of the Iranian regime, and to abandon the discussion on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement while intensifying economic sanctions. Some of this diaspora want Khamenei to suffer the same fate as Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein and demand a military intervention to achieve regime change.

These Iranian opposition groups, such as the son of the former Shah, Reza Pahlavi, the People’s Mojahedin Organization and some activists involved in human rights organizations funded by US government programs, have long-standing links with foreign powers and benefit from the support of Persian-language media financed by the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. This opposition actively seek the blessing of Western powers to ‘act out its legitimacy’.

The Iranian regime also has an interest in giving pride of place in its propaganda to this ‘opposition’ consisting of elements dependent on Western powers – firstly in order to legitimize repression and secondly to try to eliminate the democratic and independent opposition, which is the main danger to its survival.

In fact, the vast majority of the opposition wants change to be achieved through the people and through the involvement of active civil society in Iran, rather than through external groups. This mainstream opposition considers that foreign intervention not only does not help the Iranian people’s movement: it makes it very vulnerable. It believes that the role of Iranians in the diaspora is to inform and generate support in international public opinion rather than focus on Western governments.

Western powers can help the Iranian people in their movement towards democracy by respecting the following principles:

1) Condemning the oppression of the Iranian people and not turning a blind eye to the actions of the Iranian government in the name of other perceived national interests.

2) Not providing torture equipment, weapons and censorship technology to the Iranian regime. Western countries should sanction companies that supply such equipment to Iran.

3) Refusing to receive the Iranian regime’s top officials such as Ebrahim Raisi, who was involved in the execution of thousands of Iranian prisoners during the 1980s. All relations should be at a lower level than ministerial except with the foreign minister.

4) Lifting sanctions that harm the Iranian people and limiting them to those that target the government and the regime’s dignitaries.

5) Breaking off all relations with the opponents of the regime and not granting them any financial aid.

6) Not recognizing opposition groups as representatives of the Iranian people. A blatant example was when President Macron received Ebrahim Raisi, by shaking his hand and a few weeks later received a delegation of pro-Western opposition to assure France’s support to the Iranian people. These initiatives should be avoided at all costs.

7) Forbidding banks and financial firms from managing the money of the oppressive Iranian leaders.

8) Locating and tracing the wealth of these corrupt leaders and their associates (in international finance) and holding it only in order so that it may be returned to the Iranian people, when democracy is established.

9) Appropriate targeting of legal and financial sanctions. For example, instead of branding the entire Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, specific individuals such as commanders and those responsible for acts of terrorism should be identified and sanctioned. For example, the recent decision of the European Parliament does not make sense and does not help the Iranian people. It is known that the states are not able to follow the European Parliament and these hasty decisions call into question the seriousness of the European Parliament.

Mehran Mostafavi is Professor of Physical Chemistry at Université Paris-Saclay and an Iranian political activist.

Taking action

Solidarity activity with the Iranian upsurge is building across Europe. January saw actions in Manchester, organised by the Red Roots Collective working with Manchester Trades Council, who work independently and separately from the sundry monarchist groups which call for Western intervention and the restoration of the Shah – a policy rightly rejected by most Iranians.

Well over a hundred activists mobilised in Berlin and several hundred in Paris. These actions were a dress rehearsal ahead of a major cross-Europe solidarity protest this month, planned for Saturday February 11th.

A leaflet by the Manchester comrades states: “Intimidation, violence, and threat can no longer save the regime. Nasrin Qaderi, the Kurdish student who was shot dead in Tehran, put it clearly in her last message on the Internet: ‘Do not threaten us with death! We’ve lived through it!’”


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