President Donald Trump began the New Year by sending out Twitter messages about Pakistan and Iran, two of the most sensitive global hot spots. After tweeting that he may cut foreign aid to Pakistan, he issued a tweet that it is “time for a change” in Iran and that its people are “hungry” for change. “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration,” Trump wrote in a reference to Barack Obama’s nuclear pact with the Islamic Republic. “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Iranian woman assails police line.

In four days of protests, at least 12 persons have been killed in confrontations between protesters and security forces. On New Year’s Day, the government-controlled television network reported that security forces have repelled “armed protesters” who sought to overrun police stations and military installations. Clashes started in the city of Mahshad on December 28 when protesters demanded government attention to economic hardship and charges of corruption. It has unleashed the most serious protests since 2009 in a country with one of the most brutal and repressive governments in the world. In 1979, the pro-American regime of Mohamed Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by Shiite Islamist dissidents who established a theocratic government. Pahlavi was assassinated on the orders of Iran's revolutionary government, having become a pariah among Muslim countries and rejected by the Carter administration, which refused to give him sanctuary. In recent days, protesters have taken to shouting "Reza Shah: Bless your soul!" in defiance of the current Islamist government. Reza Shah was a Westernizing leader of Iran who was Pahlavi's father. Unlike 2009, when protesters shouted "Allahu akbar!", the more recent protests have rung with chants of “We don’t want an Islamic Republic!” and "Clerics shame on you, let go of our country!”

Like President Trump, Iranian dissidents have relied on social media such as Twitter and Telegram to coordinate protests that have grown over the last few days. Since the failed Green Movement of 2009, which was crushed by Iran’s security forces, Iran’s government has sought to control social media. Before elections, the government blocked both Facebook and Twitter while restricting Internet traffic in order to throttle dissent. However, Telegram -- an instant messaging service on cell phones -- allows users to upload videos, photos, and files. It has become the key to the current protest movement in the Islamic Republic, allowing Iranians to organize, and share information with each other and the rest of the world.

Telegram operates outside Iran’s “fitlernet” and permits high performance at low internet speeds, and works well with left-to-right Persian script. About 40 million Iranians use Telegram monthly among 45 million overall online users. 

Based in the United Kingdom, Telegram had frequently denied accusations that it is cooperating with the Iranian government. However, in mid-2017, Telegram revealed it had installed Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs, for content on public channels, in Iran, which was taken by many Iranians as the beginning of collusion between Telegram and the Iranian government. Even while Telegram offers a “secret chat” function, it is an encryption protocol that some analysts believe is not secure. Telegram users in Iran may have shared sensitive information under the impression that it was safe to do so. In January 2016, several Iranian journalists had their accounts hacked by the government.

Then on December 30, Telegram shut down a public channel for AmadNews, a popular news outlet with more than 700,000 followers. Iranian Minister of Information Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi asked for Telegram to censor AmadNews “encouraging hateful conduct, use of Molotov cocktails, armed uprising, and social unrest.” Telegram’s cofounder Pavel Durov quickly announced his compliance, citing the platform’s “Terms of Service” for public channels.

On December 31, access to Telegram and Instagram were “temporarily limited” by Iran’s  Supreme National Security Council, according to the official news agency. Facebook, which owns Instagram, has not responded to requests for comment. Durov wrote on Twitter that Iran was Iran was "blocking access ... for the majority of Iranians" after protesters allegedly used the messaging application to plan and publicize demonstrations. On Sunday, Telegram users could not longer access the application on cellphone networks, even while it was still available via home internet and WiFi connections.

Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli warned protesters against disruptive behavior. "Those who abuse the police's self-restraint and composure shall be responsible to the people for the disruption and disorder," he said in a statement. "Nothing will be solved by disruption and lawlessness. For us, it is well known who created this situation, provoking turmoil and promoting violence in cyberspace.” In an article at POLITICO, internet researcher Mahsa Alimardani wrote “[Iranian Information] Minister Jahromi has already announced on Twitter (which has been blocked in Iran since 2009) that those who say the recent censorship of social media platforms is permanent are sowing social unrest.”

In video above, Iranian police officers loot a store during protests.

Why do leftists like Iran?

Coverage of the events in Iran and interest on the part of leftists in the West appears to be muted. Writing at the leftist Huffington Post, analyst Majid Rafizadeh suggested reasons for what appears to be an alliance between Western leftists and Iranian Muslim extremists. He wrote that in the West, students are encouraged to enhance their critical thinking by focusing on themes such as Western imperialism, colonialism, and orientalism. “As a result,” he wrote, “when it comes to Iran-US or Iran-West relationships, many develop a picture of ‘we’ (the imperialists, colonialist, aggressors, and orientalists) versus ‘they’ [the Iranian government] (the repressed and victims).” It is therefore that the focus for intellectuals and students becomes how Iran was supposedly mistreated by the U.S. instead of what Iran does to its people or how it is exploiting the situation. 

Those who see the U.S. as the perpetrator of injustice directed at Iran, Rafizadeh wrote, are labeled as “highly ‘educated’, ‘sophisticated’, ‘humane’, and ‘civilized’. In addition, even if Iran commits any acts that violates international law, those liberals will find ways to justify it as a way to take the blame off the Iranian government’s shoulder and put the blame on the West or other countries in the region. This is how they are trained. On the other hand, if you do not follow this theoretical framework, you will be attacked with all different kinds of labels, and your credentials and qualifications will all be questioned.”

Rafizadeh wrote that Iran loves the liberals and leftists of the West. “The Islamic Republic tends to love these kinds of Western ‘liberals’ and ‘leftists’” he wrote, “because they fit into Iran’s agenda of demonizing and blaming the West while disregarding or justifying Iran’s aggressive actions. Many are repeatedly invited to speak on Iranian media outlets or participate in other activities.” He wrote that the predominant, binary, thinking of Western liberals and leftists favors the Iranian government and “does not reflect the nuances, and complexities of Iran’s politics, and does not do any justice to the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people and others in the region, such as the Syrian people.”

In a tweet on December 31, President Trump denounced the deal worked out by Barack Obama with Iran to release millions of dollars of Iran's frozen bank accounts in the United States for promises to minimize a uranium enrichment effort by Iran. The West has long feared the Iran intends to produce nuclear material that can be used for nuclear weapons. Trump has continued to denounce his predecessor for what Trump regards as a flawed deal with Iran. Fears about Iran's uranium enrichment program are coupled with fears over its continued testing of ballistic missiles and military adventurism.
 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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