EU Maintains Cautious Response to Iran Protests, as US Support for Challenge to Tehran Regime Grows More Vocal
The international divide on the continuing anti-government protests in Iran was starkly illustrated on Tuesday, as the Tehran regime’s regional allies issued statements dismissing the unrest as a domestic issue, while the European Union restricted itself to a plea for the avoidance of further bloodshed.
As nationwide demonstrations completed their their sixth day with little sign of easing, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the protests as “Iran’s internal affair.” In a nod to Iranian official claims that the protests have been orchestrated by Israel and the US, the Russian statement added that “external interference destabilizing the situation is inadmissible.”
Turkey — which has long competed with Iran for the loyalties of the Islamic world — adopted a similar line. “We believe it is necessary to avoid violence and not succumb to provocations,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry in Ankara declared. Meanwhile, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — whose survival rests on continued Iranian and Russian backing — denounced the US and Israel “for meddling in Iran’s domestic affairs.”
But it was the response from the EU that contrasted most dramatically with the fulsome expressions of support from American politicians led by President Donald Trump — who described the Iranian regime in perhaps the harshest terms yet in early-morning tweet on Tuesday.
The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their “pockets.” The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
A spokeswoman for Federica Mogherini — the EU’s foreign policy chief — emphasized the bloc’s diplomatic outreach to Iran with regard to the protests.
“We have been in touch with the Iranian authorities and we expect that the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression will be guaranteed,” the spokeswoman said — without detailing how the EU would respond if its expectations were not met.
“We will continue to monitor developments,” she added.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel were similarly cautious in statements issued before the New Year, addressing only the rights of the protesters to assemble peacefully. Johnson spoke of the right to “demonstrate peacefully within the law,” while Gabriel appealed to “the Iranian government to respect the rights of the demonstrators to assemble and to peacefully raise their voices.”
While not entirely unexpected, the EU’s stance on the protests left Iranian pro-democracy advocates exasperated and angry.
“The European Union as the largest alliance of democracies around the globe has reached another low point in its silence toward the Iranian people’s quest for their inalienable human rights,” Saba Farzan — executive director of the Foreign Policy Circle think tank in Germany – told The Algemeiner. “This is Europe’s backyard we’re talking about, and yet the EU acts as if peaceful demonstrations met with violence are happening on a different planet.”
“Some figures keep silent and some figures openly apologize for the Islamist regime — both are truly disgraceful,” Farzan said.
Saeed Ghasseminejad — Iran research fellow at the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank — spotlighted Europe’s commercial relations with Iran, which imported $10 billion of EU goods in 2016.
“I think the EU prefers to sign business deals with Iran,” Ghasseminejad said. “The EU has shown that its main concern is to keep its welfare state alive through lucrative business deals with dictators around the world.”
“Without pressure from the US, EU will continue supporting the Islamist regime of Tehran,” he said.
The new wave of protests in Iran began last week in the eastern city of Mashhad, before quickly spreading to other cities. Hundreds of beatings by authorities and arrests have been reported since Sunday. The protests have challenged the very legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, with demonstrators calling for an end to clerical rule and the regime’s imperial designs on neighboring states.
The protests are the first major challenge to Iran’s rulers since the crushing of the grassroots Green Movement in 2009. In an interview on Sunday with the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National on Sunday, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi — a Tehran-based lawyer and human rights advocate — predicted that Iran’s clerics would continue to face mass defiance.
“I think the protests are not going to end soon,” Ebadi said. “It seems to me that we are witnessing the beginning of a big protest movement that can go well beyond the Green wave of 2009.”
“It would not surprise me if it becomes something bigger,” she said.