The red carpet treatment offered to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, by heads of state in Europe is justified from a diplomatic and economic perspective: The JCPoA has brought Tehran out of its isolation and many states are looking at Iran with renewed interest as a base to make money or to increase political influence. Rouhani’s tour in Italy and France yielded billion dollar deals and a direct connection between these countries and Iran and Rouhani is set to visit Belgium and Austria in the near future and, if all goes well, other European states are bound to roll out the red carpet for him at later dates. “Doing business” with Iran is, for now, a very profitable venture in view of the fact that Iran is now flush with cash and has an economy which is thirsty for Western products and investments.
Unfortunately, these red carpets and the billion dollar deals resulting from them are also covering blood stains of victims who are repeatedly trampled under by the regime in Tehran: Thousands of Iranians are incarcerated or executed for criticizing the regime or for simply demanding basic freedoms not awarded to them as minorities oppressed by the regime while untold tens of thousands are killed or wounded in wars and subversive efforts which Tehran is aggressively supporting in the region and around the world.
The burning question remains whether the Western countries who want to do business with Iran have a responsibility to pressure Iran into complying with Western standards of human rights or not? Obviously, these governments and corporations who are rolling out the red carpets for Rouhani would rather turn a blind eye to the suffering of the victims of the regime. In order to effectively do so, they justify their actions by pointing out that they are already “doing business” with countries with human rights records similar to Iran, by claiming that by “doing business” with Iran they will empower Rouhani’s “moderate” viewpoint or by simply stating that “it’s just business” and if they don’t do it, others will. This may help them sleep better at night but their denials will certainly not help the victims of the regime survive.
Iran’s Overbearing Quest for Respect
Obtaining respect and dignity is at the core of the Islamic Revolution and of Iran’s stubbornness in regards with dealing with pressures from the West. In order to understand just how important obtaining respect is for the regime, one has to only read into the vision of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, for a Global Islamic Awakening or a New Islamic Civilization. For Khamenei, the goal of establishing a global Islamic rule through the unity of all Muslims around the world is destined to bring freedom for “oppressed” nations and to finally bring dignity to the “Ummah” (Muslim nation).
The respect that Iran seeks from the West is a one-way street because the West has “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could” and it is now, according to Tehran, time for a drastic change in the world order or as Khamenei simply states “today, it is Islam’s turn” and “this century is the century of Islam”.
This respect demands that Sharia laws existent in Tehran should be evident in the presence of Iranian leaders all over the world. This call for respect for Islam and for Iran has led to numerous diplomatic spats that include not accepting to attend lunches or dinners where wine is served, demands that women wear head-dresses and that art containing nudes be covered up. It is not surprising then that following the Charlie Hebdo massacre over cartoons of Mohammad, Khamenei was one of the first to condemn the caricaturists instead of the terrorists.
And what form of respect does Iran show to the West? Very little. Visiting diplomats are chastised if they do not wear “proper” head-dresses or meet with critics of the regime, foreign journalists such as Jason Rezaian are incarcerated for “spying” and US sailors who crossed into Iran’s territorial waters were arrested and humiliated instead of being offered safe passage.
To Pressure or Not To Pressure?
Rouhani may truly be a moderate when juxtaposed with the hardliners ruling Tehran but the facts show that the state of human rights has gone from bad to worse under his presidency. Executions are soaring, crackdowns on journalists/bloggers/artists are growing, oppression of religious minorities are on the increase and gender inequality has increased in some areas. To be fair, Rouhani is certainly fighting to create a more moderate regime in Tehran by fighting Khamenei on issues of foreign policy and by fighting the Guardian Council on issues of disqualifications of reformist candidates in the upcoming elections.
Some believe that any more pressure on Iran now will only lead to a backlash of hardliners who will pounce at the opportunity to hit back at Rouhani. Others believe that it is only through continuous pressure that Rouhani can finally convince the Iranian people that their quest for freedoms is being supported by the world and that they should voice their quest to the regime. What is certain is that the regime won’t offer these freedoms freely.
But the problem is not only the infractions of human rights in Iran: Tehran is notoriously supporting wars in Syria and in Yemen while supporting subversive efforts to overthrow governments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and even as far away as Kenya and Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian victims in the Syrian civil war were butchered by Assad’s army (funded and supported by Iran), by Hezbollah militia (an Iranian proxy) or by the Russian air-force. According to the Syrian Network For Human Rights, of the 200 thousand plus civilians killed in the war, Assad’s forces, supported by Tehran, are responsible for nearly 96% (over 180,000 people)!
Unfolding the red carpet in Rome and in Paris for Rouhani is an affront to their lives and deaths.
Blood Money Keeps Pouring In
The implementation of the JCPoA released over $100 billion in funds frozen by sanctions. Although this is a huge sum of money, it is only the beginning: deals with China are estimated at $600 billion over the next ten years while deals in Rome and in Paris are estimated at $40 billion. Here’s a short (long) list of some of the deals brokered in Europe during Rouhani’s last visit and estimates for future deals reach the $200 billion mark…for now.
This money is sure to benefit the IRGC and the foreign investors who are brave enough to enter the Iranian markets but it will probably take a very long time until its effect will reach the Iranian populace and will probably never reach the Syrians suffering from Iran’s involvement in their war.
If Iran were a country focused on the welfare of its civilians, the influx of cash would be a windfall for the cash-starved Iranians but as Henry Kissinger put it, Iran has to decide “whether it is a nation or a cause”. According to Foreign minister Javad Zarif, Iran is more of a cause than a nation since Tehran has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order…why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order…it may seek independence and strength, but its definition of strength is the advancement of its national welfare” and “without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.“.
Knowing this, it is up to the countries investing into Iran to decide whether they are ready further such a cause or whether they want to help the Iranian people. Until then, the money flowing into Iran is bound to promote bloodshed instead of promoting welfare.