By Arab News
By Maria Maalouf*
The suffering of the Iranian people cannot be hidden anymore, as thousands of them are taking to the streets, publicly and courageously, to protest against the inhuman conditions they have been enduring for a long time.
While most political commentators, especially in the US, have tried to portray the most recent demonstrations as a throwback to, and continuation of, the protest movements that emerged in Iran in 2019, the political trends in the country indicate a potentially deeper crisis for the regime in Tehran that came to power in February 1979 following the overthrow of the shah.
The most important aspect of these waves of protests that are taking place frequently is that they are happening at the same time as negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the US, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany) concerning Iran’s nuclear program.
While full details of those talks are not available, leaked information suggests a diplomatic stalemate between Tehran and Washington in efforts to reach a renewed nuclear deal. The main sticking point seems to be the US rejection of Iranian demands that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the American government’s official terrorism blacklist.
The government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has failed to curb the spread of news about the sporadic protests taking place in Iranian cities and towns. Many social media outlets have captured on camera numerous scenes of police brutality during protests, including severe beatings of brave Iranian citizens who are demanding justice and economic relief.
The genesis of the protests stems from the lifting of government subsidies in the past few weeks, which has resulted in skyrocketing prices of basic food staples such as bread, eggs, milk, chicken and cooking oil. While part of the problem can be blamed on the worldwide grain shortage resulting from the war in Ukraine, most Iranians believe that corruption and the government’s economic mismanagement are the real reasons for the current food crisis in their country.
The failure of the negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear research, including its enrichment of uranium, means that Western economic sanctions on the regime will continue. This will result in more economic hardship for millions of Iranians.
In addition, teachers have been protesting for months, demanding higher salaries. Moreover, protests in the province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, are continuing. In the most recent demonstrations, Iranians chanted slogans denouncing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Biden administration must be aware of the true situation inside Iran. It has been deluding itself that Iran is a stable country. The US has an essential role to play in bringing peace to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. In other words, the Biden administration must abandon the idea that Iran is a reliable partner that can work with the US to achieve peace in the Gulf.
Critically, Washington must stop making concessions to Tehran. Why? Because it is apparent that when Iran is granted economic relief, it does not spend the money on making sure food is more affordable and accessible to its citizens. Instead, the regime distributes the money to its affiliated terrorist groups so that they can launch more terror attacks.
Furthermore, liberals in the US have to end the harmful habit, found among a number of their foreign policy experts, of making excuses for the Iranian government and claiming that Western sanctions are to blame for the deteriorating situation inside Iran.
Some foreign policy specialists view Iran as a symbol of reconciliation between the West and the Muslim world. This is not true. The tolerant Islam found in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Islamic countries should be the basis for harmonious relations between Islam and the West.
Most likely, the Biden administration will suspend the talks with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. This will be useless. Tehran could use the time provided by such a pause to enrich more uranium. It would deceive the world and procure an atomic device that could become a nuclear weapon it can deploy.
So far, Biden has not spoken about his options if Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon. What we do know is that Israel has previously warned that it will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
The media in Iran continues to employ the same rhetoric it has been using for decades, that America, Israel and their agents are the forces responsible for fomenting the unrest in Iran. The Biden administration has missed an opportunity to dismiss these suggestions and send a message to the Iranian government to be more responsible to its own people and to the whole world.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Iran. However, the current situation in the country is not stable, which portends bad news for Iran in the short term.
It is crucial that the US develop a “Plan B” for dealing with Tehran, because the situation could swiftly deteriorate and lead to a state of emergency.
*Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher and writer. She has a master’s degree in political sociology from the University of Lyon. Twitter: @bilarakib