Almost exactly two years since the Iranian regime brutally put down the “Bloody Aban” mass protests, the mullahs are at it again—this time targeting the people of Isfahan, who have the temerity to demand clean drinking water.
The Isfahan protests expose one of the regime’s key failings, which has been the systematic degradation of Iran’s environment. This egregious mismanagement has left some 97 percent of Iranians without sufficient water, and the shortage is particularly acute in the agricultural zone of central Iran. The regime tolerated some earlier, smaller demonstrations. Yesterday, however, a larger protest, which had broad popular support and started to spill over to the rest of the country, triggered the regime to deploy its Chinese-imported oppression apparatus to crush it. One standard tool in this grim toolbox is to cut off the state-run Internet to hide Tehran’s crimes from the world and disable the protestors, although a few searing images of defenseless innocents being brutalized by the basij, or regime paramilitary forces, have trickled out.
Shamefully, the Biden administration, which claims to put human rights, not to mention climate issues, at the core of its foreign policy, has remained silent as this atrocity has unfolded. Perhaps they are assuming most Americans are too stuffed with turkey or concerned about rising fuel prices and inflation here at home to worry much about a far-away protest. But there are still enough Americans who can remember when the people of Iran were our friends, and what an enormous regional strategic advantage that was in the Middle East. They also remember the catastrophic 1979 Islamic Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis that ended that alliance. As the crisis in Isfahan grinds into another week, all those who care about building a better, more prosperous future for the people of Iran, one in which asking for a drink of water is not punishable by death, should demand better from our own leadership.
Some key points:
- The Iranian people are not apathetic and they do not support their odious regime for the sake of stability. This narrative, which not coincidentally is virtually identical to that pedaled by the People’s Republic of China about its own people, is the work of the regime. Over and over again through the course of the Islamic Republic’s history the people of Iran have risen up to demand freedom and basic rights. The 2009 Green Revolution was primarily an urban demonstration for real democracy. The Bloody Aban protests were sparked by a sharp increase in fuel prices. The most recent iteration is over water. So while the brutal crackdowns are chilling, they have by no means silenced the people—and the regime knows it. These brave protesters deserve our robust support.
- Strategic silence did not work in 2009 and it’s not going to work now. In 2009 then Senator John Kerry disingenuously claimed that vocal U.S. support for the Green Revolution would only offend the protestors and empower the “hardliners.” The Iranian regime—correctly—interpreted the Obama administration’s deliberate decision not to back the Green Revolution as a tacit admission that the United States wanted diplomatic engagement at all costs, and would accordingly stove-pipe any human rights abuses. The result was dead protesters, an entrenched regime, and ultimately the disastrous 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iranian nuclear deal. We repeat this history at our peril.
- The United States still does not have the capacity to stream satellite-based free Internet access to the people of Iran so they can communicate with each other—and the outside world—when the regime uses its Internet kill switch. This is a disgrace. We have the technology and capability to do this. The fact that the U.S. government has not equipped itself with the ability to export free speech is deeply unfortunate and if the Biden administration refuses to advance this policy that would have wide-ranging, strategic global applications, Congress should act.