Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Opinion

Column: What Most outsiders had been missing about the situation in Iran

Protests have broken out all over Iran. The causes of the upheaval, ranging from discontent with the countryís economy and its stifling political system, have put pressure on both Iranís supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its less conservative president, Hassan Rouhani. To discuss the situation in Iran, I spoke by phone with Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Isaac Chotiner: There were rumors that these demonstrations were actually started by hard-liners in the regime who wanted to undermine President Rouhani. Do you put any truth in that rumor?

Karim Sadjadpour: Itís difficult to confirm, but I think itís very plausible. But if indeed it was hard-liners who encouraged people to voice their economic frustrations against President Rouhani, itís now taken on a new life. Itís being fueled by the same type of anger and frustrations that fuel antigovernment protests around the world: a combination of rising living costs, corruption, repression.

But I think one thing that is somewhat unique about the Islamic Republic of Iran is that itís not only politically and economically authoritarian, but itís also socially authoritarian. It tells you what you can wear, what you can or canít drink, whom you can interact with. I think thatís been a longtime source of frustration in particular for young Iranians.

What do you think the demonstrations reveal about the cleavages within the regime itself?

Well, Iím guessing that many of the people who are protesting are people who probably voted for President Rouhani. Not necessarily because they love him, but because they thought he was the best choice offered to them. So, itís difficult for Rouhani to come out and advocate crushing them because these were essentially his constituents. Now, there are concerns that some Iranians have said that the Revolutionary Guard are actually allowing these protests to fester to eventually use as a pretext for coming in and crushing them and expanding their authority in the country.

One of the things we have to keep in mind is that these protests, the citizens who are protesting, theyíre leaderless. Theyíre unorganized. Theyíre unarmed. The regimeís coercive apparatus, the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia, theyíre heavily armed..

From the Saudi point of view, is the regime in Iran the worst possible regime they could have there?

One of the paradoxes of Iran in the Middle Eastern context is that most Middle Eastern governments are ruled by secular autocrats who are repressing primarily Islamic opposition. In Iran, you have the opposite dynamic. Itís an Islamist autocracy, repressing a primarily secular opposition. So, I think that many people believe that if Iran were to become a more representative government, and pursue national interests instead of revolutionary ideology, that would bode well for the United States, for Saudi Arabia.

I donít want to make this conversation about the United States, but do you see the nuclear deal or Trumpís response to the nuclear deal as playing any part in the internal situation in Iran?

People were overwhelmingly supportive of the nuclear deal. Iíve always argued that Iranian society aspires to be like South Korea, not North Korea. But I think ... Crane Brinton, who wrote a book about revolutions, he argued that popular uprisings often times happen when peopleís expectations are raised and then abruptly dashed. So, peopleís expectations were raised by the nuclear deal, but the quality of life hasnít materially improved.

One thing you notice from the protest is that I havenít heard any slogans denouncing sanctions or denouncing America or Donald Trump. The slogans are essentially denouncing Iranís leadership and corruption and mismanagement.

Is there anything that the White House should do or not do?

I think whatís most important for them to do is to think about ways to prevent the Iranian government from being able to shut down the Internet, and control and monopolize communication. One way I think the U.S. can do that is to make clear to companies and countries around the world that if theyíre found complicit in providing the Iranian government the means and technology to repress or censor people, theyíll be censured by the United States.

Is it harder to tell companies that, when we are not consistent in our outrage about countries in the region repressing their people?

Listen, if youíre an American politician or youíre working at the State Department, and youíre thinking about U.S. national interests, a protest movement against a government whose official slogan is "Death to America" is more appealing to you than a protest movement against the Jordanian monarchy, which is allied with the United States. So, thereís always going to be a moral inconsistency there because youíre not looking at this through a purely moral lens. Youíre looking at this through the lens of U.S. national interests. So yeah, antigovernment protests in Iran give U.S. officials hope.

© 2018 Slate

Comments
Editorial: Florence shows why flood insurance must be fixed

Editorial: Florence shows why flood insurance must be fixed

The floodwaters have been still rising in North Carolina, more than a week after Hurricane Florence swept through the state. The storm continues to wreak havoc in areas where fewer than 1 in 10 homeowners have flood insurance, underscoring the need f...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: DeSantis, Scott send mixed messages on oil drilling

Editorial: DeSantis, Scott send mixed messages on oil drilling

Every candidate for federal and state office in Florida should be unequivocal in opposing oil drilling off the coast and crystal clear in supporting a permanent extension to the federal ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. But the Republica...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Editorial: Florida needs uniform standards for voting by mail

Vote by mail has been a stunning success in Florida, increasing turnout and making it easy and convenient to cast a ballot with time to research and reflect. But a new study shows that mail ballots cast by African-American, Hispanic or younger voters...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

Editorial: Borrowers need protection from Marlin Financial

State and federal lending regulations exist to protect consumers from being surprised — and overwhelmed — by ballooning debt. Marlin Financial, a shadowy auto lender doing business around Florida, seems to be skirting those protections ...
Published: 09/21/18
Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

Editorial: Putnam hire stinks of patronage, secrecy

In addition to a lesson on political patronage, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam needs a refresher on the particulars of state public records law.In January 2017, Putnam hired the 27-year-old son of a former Publix executive to a high-pay...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

Editorial: Investigate first, then hold Kavanaugh confirmation vote

There should be a timely investigation of the allegation of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh before senators hear from him and his accuser, let alone vote on whether they should confirm his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The proces...
Published: 09/20/18
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/19/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18