More than a month of anti-government protests and strikes may have finally dragged Western governments from their inaction and complacency toward the Iranian regime. They may even have concluded, belatedly, that it would be best to postpone the multilateral talks to renew a nuclear pact with Tehran.
The slogans, demands and grievances of Iranians against state violence have finally broken through abroad, as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States gingerly add names to their lists of sanctioned Iran officials and agencies.
Admittedly, the latest inclusions approved by the EU were not related to the suppression of protests in Iran but to the military supplies sent to Russia.
What has prompted the West to temper its appeasement of the Islamic Republic?
It must be nothing more and nothing less than the courage and resilience of Iranian protesters, displayed not just for a few days but for well over a month, since beginning in mid-September.
How Iran swayed the West
The movement has stood firm in spite of regime agents killing more than 250 protesters including 27 children and teenagers, and arresting thousands more — with all the terrible possibilities detention entails in Iran.
Biden's own discourse has changed
This revolt has brought the name of its first victim, Mahsa Amini and its slogan — Woman, Life and Freedom — to global recognition. It has brought out crowds in support of Iranians and especially Iranian women. All this is unprecedented since 1979, when the Islamic Republic came into being.
Western governments have to respect public opinion in their countries, thanks to the intermittent institution of general elections. People can always vote against governments that ignore their expectations, and the protests of Iranians have certainly captured hearts and minds in many countries. This has in turn prompted an unprecedented mass of gestures, acts and events to support Iranians and denounce the Islamic Republic.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the 6th CICA Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan
Is the U.S. changing position on Iran?
On Oct. 20, 14 countries with female foreign ministers held an online meeting at the invitation of the Canadian Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, to discuss support for Iranian women. This was a first. The Democratic administration of U.S. President Joseph Biden has also changed its line and for the first time. It invited more than the usual lobbies — which often promote rapprochement with the Islamic Republic — for conversations on Iran.
Some of the new interlocutors included Nazanin Boniadi, a prominent actress, and the author Roya Hakakian, who met with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his advisers to convey the views of ordinary Iranians. Boniadi also met with Vice President Kamala Harris and the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Biden's own discourse has changed, as shown by some public expressions of support for the protesters. His Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, has voiced regret over his administration's failure to support mass Iran protests in 2009. The reactions might have something to do with Congressional elections on Nov. 2, in which the Democrats are not expected to do well. But while the aim may be to keep votes, it's a case of a glass half full and welcome as far as it goes.
A regime under pressure
We shouldn't overlook the proactive role of Iranian exiles, whatever their political tendencies, and the influence they have managed to wield. Many bi-national personalities — from actors and actresses, to journalists, artists, influencers, parliamentarians and businessmen — have loudly voiced their support for protesting Iranians and contributed to changing the policies of their countries of residence. Many have simply taken to the streets to voice their indignation.
The Islamic Republic is facing multiple pressures today: lingering protests, strikes and a return of sanctions. It is cornered and bruised — though not yet down and out — and resorting to its usual tactics of threats, kidnappings and regional meddling. In a month of protests it has detained 33 individuals identified as foreign nationals involved in sedition.
According to an Italian diplomat, Iran's foreign minister, Hussein Amirabdullahian, has told his Italian counterpart that if the Europeans persist with measures against the regime, they should expect these detainees, including an Italian, to spend a long time in jail. He knows that unlike his own government, European countries are concerned with the lives of their nationals.
EU foreign ministers displayed their usual caution when recently approving more sanctions on Iran without a formal and public rebuke of its actions. The EU needs unanimity to act effectively and Iranian officials, like their mentors in Russia, have cottoned onto that. Still, there is real hope that the limit to the world's patience — and to the Islamic Republic's dishonorable and crafty staying power — is coming to an end.
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