How the West can help Iranians usher in a new day
Co-chair of the British Committee for Iran Freedom Sir David Amess MP writes that all western leaders should make it clear once and for all, that the world supports the Iranian people’s demands for democracy and freedom.
I make a conscious effort to keep myself informed of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and so should others. Western politicians and human rights advocates should aim to keep abreast of the conditions in the country, especially because the world international community has a long-standing habit of neglecting the plight of the Iranian people for political expediency.
This fact was sadly on display at the opening of last week’s session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On its second day, the session heard a speech from Iranian Justice Minister, Alireza Avaei Ali-reza Avaee - a man who is under EU sanctions for serious human rights violations and who played an active role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, the vast majority of which were members and supporters of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organiszation of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
To their credit, a number of European delegates to the international body walked out on Avaeei’s speech. But this fell short of the demands made by many Iranian expatriates and their supporters that he be barred from speaking at all. The act of welcoming such figures on the world stage sends exactly the wrong message. It contributes to Tehran’s sense of impunity and gives the impression that the international community is either not paying attention to ongoing human rights abuses or does not care to respond appropriately. It also speaks to a myth that has guided so much Western policy toward Iran: the myth of the existing regime’s stability.
The mass uprising in late December and early January in Iran should have destroyed this myth once and for all. The regime’s crackdown on those protests should have awakened the international community and the need for a more robust strategy against the regime.
My interest in the region has also ensured that I am well acquainted with the resistance movement against the country’s religious dictatorship – a movement that is principally led by the PMOI People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. The decisive role of that organisation was made clear in early January when the clerical regime’s Supreme Leader acknowledged that the PMOI had organised and helped to carry orchestrate a number of anti-regime demonstrations that rocked Iran for several weeks from December 28th.
With chants of “death to the dictator” and “reformist, hard-liner: the game is over,” the activist population targeted the theocracy in its entirety. This left nobody in any doubt of the people’s disdain for the clerical regime and its overthrow as to establishment a democratic Iran.
There are many in the West who, like myself, are familiar with the PMOI’s democratic platform for the future of Iran and the organisation's potential to spearhead transformative change in the Middle East. It is a beacon of hope for all pro-democracy movements in the region. In the UK and throughout the world, the PMOI’s supporters represent a wide range of political persuasions, but they share a common commitment to the universal principles of human rights and self-government.
The recent demonstrations and the prominent role of the PMOI make it clear that the Iranian people are capable of achieving regime change on their own. However, that is not an indication for international neglect. The world should be prepared for a resurgence of the uprisings that have threatened the clerical Iranian regime’s hold on power. By merely supporting that movement with appropriate human rights sanctions and media exposure, democratic nations can see to it that Tehran fails in its bid to continue suppressing the Iranian people’s will.
Nonetheless, the regime is already proposing that precise action against its citizens. The government plans to station civilian militias affiliated with the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps throughout the country, in preparation for public gatherings prior to the Iranian New Year celebration, Nowruz, that will take place on March 20th.
Nowruz literally translates as “new day” and it is preceded by the fire festival known as Chaharshanbe Suri, which falls on March 13th this year. Public gatherings on that traditional holiday have long been a source of anxiety for the clerical regime. This year’s celebrations are highly unusual as they closely follow the mass uprisings and the deaths of dozens of innocent protesters dead.
Those who are familiar with the Islamic Republic have been predicting since January that these crackdowns would only fuel a new uprising. This possibility is firmly underscored by the obvious paranoia in the regime’s preparations for the New Year. At this moment, the regime’s greatest fear is that Nowruz will live up to its name and truly represent a new day for the restive and long-suffering Iranian people.
The Iranian Resistance is aware of that fear and is ready to exploit it. The PMOI’s networks inside Iran have begun to issue calls to action in hopes of sparking new wave of protests during the fire festival, Chaharshanbe Suri, and the last remaining days of the year that will rival the scope of the January protests which spread to over one hundred and forty Iranian cities and towns.
Western leaders should recognise the potential that this situation represents for the people of Iran and for the future of the entire region. President Donald Trump was quick to issue full-throated support for the previous uprising. The opportunity now exists for him and his western counterparts to repeat that message in advance of the next wave of protests.
This will make it clear once and for all that the world supports the Iranian people’s demands for democracy and freedom, thus helping to usher in a new era for their country.
Sir David Amess is the Conservative MP for Southend West & co-chair of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF)