As we’ve seen in the past few days, America’s political class, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are supporting the protesters in Iran. Trump has issued statements, and the pundits have tweeted. However, easy acts of solidarity are not helpful, they do not substitute for policy or strategy.
Although the regime shut down social media that was used to organize the protests, videos of demonstrations and brazen acts arson that have filled the Telegram channels of Iranian dissidents in the last few months, show that fear is receding. Iran’s dictatorship won’t work if its citizens are unafraid of the state. In his article for Bloomberg, Eli Lake discusses measures to keep social media safe. “The State Department, for example, should work closely with Telegram, WhatsApp and other platforms in Iran to figure out ways around the state’s cyber-ban.” Allies of the Iranian regime use their codes of conduct to kick off legitimate journalists and activists like Potkin Azarmehr, a U.K.-based broadcaster who was one of the first outside journalists to begin documenting the protests this week.
Lake also suggests that lists be compiled of the names of Iranians who were “arrested, murdered, and tortured” by American allies who have embassies in Tehran, as well as human-rights groups there. He emphasizes that the State Department could create a crisis center to coordinate such a list, and to publicize these names in Farsi-language media.
The ongoing treatment of the detainees should be the foremost issue for Western diplomacy with Iran, according to Lake, who believes that Western diplomats should put the fate of the protesters being on the top of the agenda for any meetings with Iranian officials.
Additionally, Lake writes that, “Regime figures like Foreign Minister Javad Zarif should no longer be treated like statesmen in soft-soap interviews in the Western media. Universities should stop offering them platforms. Advocates should organize campaigns against European companies seeking the windfall promised by the Iran nuclear deal.”
There is currently a Change.org petition urging former US President Barack Obama to speak out in favor of the demonstrations. Lake writes, “Obama’s unique understanding of grassroots activism puts him in an ideal position to lead the Western cause of solidarity.”
But, it’s important to avoid past mistakes. Neither the State Department, nor the CIA will bring freedom to Iran. Iranians will be their own liberators. The expert class should step aside and listen to those Iranians driven out of their home country, who now live in the West.
It’s also important to not be discouraged. It’s likely the unrest is the beginning of a longer process. While this regime has survived mass demonstrations and riots before, in the coming weeks, the West can support the Iranian people demanding freedom — our true allies.