10.2009 – The future of sanctions (di Arash Falasiri)


Ever since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in Iran in August 2005, three United Nations’ sanctions have been imposed on the country as a result of his government’s insistence on continuing a uranium enrichment program.

Yet in response to world concerns Ahmadinejad has stated several times that the sanctions are just paper work and will not influence Iran’s nuclear decisions.

Whether this claim is true or not, when the time comes to propose future sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear ambitions the United Nations Security Council members must closely consider the country’s post-election era – and specifically the shift that has occurred in Iran’s internal politics.

Although there may be some economic evidence to show the three previous UN sanctions on Iran have been effective to some extent, the Islamic state endeavours to downplay the sanctions, publicly claiming that they are ineffective.

There are both domestic and international factors which have helped the Iranian government to pursue its nuclear policy and to pretend that Iran can cope with the cost of its nuclear strategy. The increasing price of oil over a three year period from 2005 to 2008, together with the global financial recession, provided the Islamic state with a unique opportunity to persist with its nuclear policy and ignore the UN sanctions.

Meanwhile different views expressed by some UN Security Council members have given Iran an opportunity to continue its nuclear policy and to take advantage of these different viewpoints.

But the most important way in which the Islamic regime justifies its determination to resist world concerns over its nuclear ambitions may be found in the Iranian leaders’ interior strategic shift toward ‘nationalism’.

Throughout the last three decades since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iranian government has categorised all national issues under the name of ‘Islamic values.’ Almost every national achievement under the Islamic regime is recognised as being of benefit to the Islamic world.

In contrast, nuclear power is the only achievement that the government acknowledges as ‘national’, comparable to the nationalisation of oil in Iran by Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. By linking nuclear power to the Iranian identity, the government aims to delude the Iranian public into believing in the fantasy of re-establishing the bygone glories of the “Great Persia”.

In doing so, as many socio-political thinkers argue, total control of the public sphere is crucial. This is how the Iranian government tries to isolate its people from reality both through censorship and by spreading propaganda throughout all sections of public life, for example education, leisure and sports, to justify the cost and effect of its decision to develop nuclear power.

The closing down of more than 110 newspapers in recent years is an example of the Iranian government’s intolerance.

The Iranian Journalists Syndicate recently declared 2009 the hardest ever for journalists; Iran has one of the highest rates of jailed journalists in the world.
On August 6 this year the state proclaimed the Journalists Syndicate an illegal organisation.

General speaking, the Iranian state prefers its people to be isolated from the world news. Last year, the hardliner Minister for Culture, when replying to a question regarding the content of the media in Iran, said: “The gentle souls of Iranians cannot bear the harsh news of the world”.

However a great shift is anticipated at a time when the Iranian hardliner regime is under outside pressure to modify its nuclear program. The state needs public support to withstand international pressure and UN sanctions.

With this firmly in mind, the Islamic regime, for the first time, has declared its nuclear program as being for the benefit of “the great Persia”.

Well aware of the futility of applying the values of Islam to nuclear power, Ahmadinejad emphasises the importance of this technology for reviving “a glorious Persia”, knowing how important this notion is to the Iranian public because it distinguishes them from Arab Muslims.

A report issued by the Iranian tourism ministry shows that more than 81 per cent of Iranians refer to themselves as ‘Persian’ rather than ‘Iranian’ when they are travelling outside of the country. The removal of the name “Arab Gulf” from the National Geographic website, resulting from a petition signed by more than one million Iranians, saw its replacement with its original name of “Persian Gulf”, surely a telling example of this sentiment.

While the state’s internal policy to put the cost and pressure of UN sanctions on the people’s shoulders has been successful, the post-election circumstances have the potential to collapse this policy.

Iran’s social movement, and people’s will to insist on their civilian rights, along with the so-called green movement, have put Iranian social issues in the Western mass media’s headlines.

Based on independent reports this welcome publicity has given some of the Iranian people the confidence to resist their fundamentalist government. Also, due to the Supreme Leader’s total support for Ahmadinejad, as well as reformists’ religious or non-religious ongoing opposition, we are no longer dealing with the ‘old’ Iran.

What I am trying to show here is that as a result of the post-election circumstances, Iranians are now presented with many new avenues that may render the fundamentalists’ position fragile.

This could help both the world’s nuclear concerns and the concerns of those Iranian civilians seeking to improve their civilian rights.

Giving activists this opportunity to become visible in the western media – as well as voicing Iranians’ human rights concerns – sends a strong message of support that will boost the Iranian public’s will to pursue social reform.
During the first term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, some activists believed that even if his regime achieved its nuclear weapons goal, it would not use them directly against people – not militarily.

But in the aftermath of the election, after they had witnessed the brutal suppression inflicted by the government, the Iranian public has begun to realise the danger of a fundamentalist regime having access to nuclear weapons.

Thus, there will be no contradiction if the forthcoming sanctions send a message to the Iranian people that this ongoing split between the will of the people and the will of those in power is open to world scrutiny.

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