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Event Summaries
March 5, 2018

Event summary: Iran Protests: What is the Responsibility of the Free World?

Henry Jackson Society

Speaker: Mariam Memarsadeghi
Co-Founder & Co-Director of Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society

Chaired by Bob Blackman MP

On 26th February 2018 the Henry Jackson Society hosted Mariam Memarsadeghi, who is the co-founder and co-director of Tavaana, which is an e-learning institute. She focused her talk on the responsibility that the West has on the recent protests in Iran. She outlined what the protests were about, and why they happened. She argued that their slogans and chants were unmistakably secular and liberal, that the protests came from the urban working-class, and that the attention of their anger was on the corrupt credit institutions, and importantly the regime itself.

Previous protests were targeted at hardliners, but because the moderate President Rouhani is in charge, their target was the entire theocratic regime. Not were only this, but these were the biggest protests since the 1970s, and in over 80 cities. The size and organisation of these protests is partly because 40 million Iranians have smartphones, which makes obtaining information on government corruption and global news easier, and importantly to organise protests.

Having given us a big picture of the protests, Mariam Memarsadeghi went onto argue what the West should do. Firstly, the United States under Barack Obama made an error by allowing such a relaxed deal with Iran. By lifting some sanctions, the regime, rather than the middle-class, benefited most. The deal didn’t cover Iran’s involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, either. And in fact, she argues, that the regime cynically uses the situation in Syria as way to show the Iranian people, ‘look at the chaos when people want change, is that what you want?’ This argument has sustained the regime, but these protests show that this picture is perhaps crumbling.

Secondly, the West has to isolate Iran economically if it is to try to get some social or regime change. The European Union has to be stricter with European company’s access to the Iranian market. The E.U.’s mantra of, “If you’re nice to them, they will be nice to you,” is not a policy that helps civil society in Iran, but that it is naïve to Iranian ambitions. Thirdly, the West must stick to its values. She highlighted the Swedish government, which has called itself a feminist government, but still decided to wear headscarves during their meeting with Iranian leaders. She said that this sends the wrong symbolic message to the Iranian civil society. She asked, “What is Britain, the E.U., and America if it turns a blind eye to global suffering?”

The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank Mariam Memarsadeghi for an enlightening discussion of the Iran Protests.