Weak Response to Iran Protests From European Leaders

By INU Staff

INU - The protests which have erupted in Iran over the past few days came as a surprise, claim many world leaders. As recently as October, many European politicians and American analysts confidently declared that American sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had united the Iranian people behind the nation's government. In fact, Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted a proclamation saying, "Today, Iranians — boys, girls, men, women — are ALL IRGC; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.”

However, on Thursday, Iranians began taking to the streets to protest against mass unemployment and corruption. They voiced opposition to the country's expensive campaign to rescue Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from deposition.

In the West, more attention has gone to global responses to the protests in Iran, rather than of the protests themselves. For instance, President Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of Iranian protesters has been scrutinized. He said that the "Iranian [government] should respect their people's rights, including [the] right to express themselves.” In response to Iran's shutting down of the internet to prevent protestors from organizing, he commented, "Not good!" But, Trump's comments have been criticized as hypocritical in light of his administration's travel ban, which prevents Iranian citizens from entering the United States.

As well, a speech by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the same subject, has received its share of criticism. He stated, “When this regime finally falls — and one day it will — Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again. I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom.”

Disapproval aside, at least these two national leaders have commented. Europe's response to the protests and the subsequent backlash has been weak, which raises the question, of European policymakers being preoccupied with salvaging the nuclear deal.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson made a statement saying, that Her Majesty's government, "regret[s] the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran". It "believe[s] that there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising.”

Germany's foreign office called for "all sides to refrain from taking any violent action.”

Catherine Roy, the spokesperson for Frederica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, implied that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's government would respect the rights of Iran's citizens to demonstrate peacefully. Roy also noted that the EU would continue to "monitor the situation".

It is too soon to predict how these protests will end. The Iranian people have an internationally recognized right to protest, but they have been met with force. Some have been killed, some injured, and some imprisoned. Already, CNN reports 21 dead, and a serious wave of repression is likely. Reportedly, the regime has stated that protestors could face the charge of "crimes against God", which carries the death penalty.

“When people protest against mass unemployment and corruption, and are met with bullets, the world must be prepared to do more than ‘monitor the situation’,” writes James Snell, a writer whose work has appeared in numerous international publications, in his article for The New Arab.

Snell writes, “Such a situation calls for more than an assurance that foreign governments are still reading their briefing papers.” He adds, “When people are being murdered by a defensive government, the words and actions of other states matter - far more than their good intentions; their rhetoric is more important than one might think.”