Iranian Dissident: Broad-Based Economic Sanctions On Iran ‘Will Marginalize The Process Of Transition To Democracy’

Two journalists forced to leave Iran because of maltreatment by the authorities spoke out this week about sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who spent four months in jail after the 2009 election unrest and now lives in London, was asked by Fareed Zakaria what he thought the U.S. could do in terms of Iran policy. Bahari responded by decrying the broad-based sanctions, particularly those that hampered Iranian students from traveling to the U.S. for studies or that blocked Western telecommunications firms from doing business in Iran:

I think that they should think have – they should think more about the sanctions. They should lift the bad sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians. They should allow more Iranians travel. I think there was a good development that they’re giving visas to students, that the students can have multiple entry visas.

I think what the United States should do is to provide means to communicate for Iranians. The Iranian people know what to do. Iranian people know how to determine their own destinies. But what they need is to – how to communicate with each other. And that means having better communication infrastructure, for example, satellite Internet that cannot be censored. They need more filter-busters. Companies like Google, Yahoo! YouTube should be able to deal with the Iranian people freely without worrying about being reprimanded by the U.S. administration. They have to try to help Iranian people in general as much as possible.

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Meanwhile, Akbar Ganji, a long-time investigative dissident journalist, wrote on BBC Persian that sanctions that deteriorate Iran’s economy will not facilitate a focus on reforms or changes. He cites historical examples of various revolutions and contrasted them with Iraq, where a decade of devastating sanctions failed to unseat Saddam Hussein or loosen his brutal grip on the country.

According to a translation of the article (in two parts) by the National Iranian American Council, Ganji wrote:

The main problem of our society is the existence of a totalitarian regime and the transition to a democratic regime committed to freedom and human rights. If we accept this fact, based on what has been discussed before, an economic crisis will marginalize the process of transition to democracy by wiping out the middle class, as the main player in this process. Humans primarily seek their essential needs such as food, clothes, and shelter, and only in next steps do they chase their ideals. Even if someone is looking for the regime change, he or she should know that poverty does not lead to a revolution and collapse of the regime. Therefore, we should worry about the existing situation becoming increasingly worse.

Ganji added that some advocates of regime change view the economic sanctions — which are, in his estimation, unlikely to work — as a checklist item for attacking Iran. But that, too, he wrote, would fall short of Iranians’ expectations: “We want democracy and human rights for Iran and Iranians, not ruins for a nation and citizens who are awaiting death.”

While targeted U.N. sanctions aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress seem to be working and U.S. human rights sanctions have embarrassed Iranian officials and won international plaudits, there is little evidence that sweeping economic or energy sanctions have done much to change the Iranian regime’s behavior on human rights or its nuclear program. Nonetheless, hawks in Congress began pushing for new rounds of sanctions in May, including ones that would amount to a virtual or “stealth” oil embargo like the one imposed against Iraq. But last week, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said new sanctions again Iran were unnecessary.