Since Saturday night, Iranian cyberspace has experienced one of its rare moments of unison beyond political differences.
It was on December 24th night that the opposition website Taghato’ published an open letter by thirty Iranian dissidents who urged president-elect Trump to increase pressure on Iran.
Speaking on behalf of not only its writers, but also “millions of Iranians”, the letter calls the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the West a “disastrous agreement” with adverse regional and international outcomes, and calls for its “review”. Such demands are expressed while despite non-delivery of the expected economic windfall of the nuclear deal, the majority of Iranians are still hopeful that Barjaam, as the deal is known in Persian, would improve living standards hit by stringent sanctions of the early 2010s.
The ingratiating, come-and-liberate-us tone of the letter also hardly appealed to proud Iranians. The letter slams Obama for abandoning pro-democracy Iranians in 2009 post-election protests, and claims that the “hope and trust they once placed in the United States to support freedom and democracy is undermined”, only to be compensated “through fundamental changes in the U.S. policy which only you can bring forth”.
“Iran has the capacity to be one of the most steadfast allies of the United States in the world once the Islamic regime is gone” the letter reads, at a time many Iranians take pride in their country’s growing regional influence and its stability.
Arguments and appeals of the letter turn less and less desirable as they proceed, from calling for a halt to signing contracts with Iran, to portraying the Islamic Republic as the root cause of all disasters in the region, and perhaps worst of all, identifying Iran and ISIS as “two sides of the coin that is Islamic fundamentalist terrorism” at the height of anti-Da’esh sentiments in Iran and amid Tehran’s heated battle against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.
With a new political paradigm developing in Iran around the concept of national interests, both inside the establishment and among the majority of its critics and dissidents, and increasing popularity of realistic approach to politics by the latter group (to the extent that many have abandoned their previous stances and support Tehran’s involvement in the Syrian war), the letter’s strong criticism of Iran’s regional policies and development of a long-range missile program and its call for re-enforcement of sanctions bring more contempt than support for the authors.
This is despite the fact that the nearly all the 30 signatories of the letter, self-proclaimed liberals, hold a low-profile, both in the public and the mainstream media. The best known names are probably Ahmad Batebi, political prisoner in late 90s and early 2000s, Arash Sobhani, vocalist of US-based rock band Kiosk, and Majid Mohammadi, a staunch anti-IRI analyst and a regular appearance on Voice of America’s Persian service who had once called for Iran’s disintegration.
Though a number of hardliner media in Iran tried to associate authors of the letter with Reformists and ‘seditionists’, activists of the 2009 Green Movement, the harshest responses to the open letter, calling the signatories “traitors to the country”, came from the Reform camp. “I am a Reformist and believe democracy is the path to saving Iran. But if Iran, or the lives and security of its citizens is jeopardized, as the only man left from a family of martyrs, I will go to war under the command of [Supreme Leader] Ayatollah Khamenei,” said veteran Reformist Hamidreza Jalaeipour. The letter evoked criticism even from US-funded Persian media, Voice of America (1) and Radio Farda (2).
Less than 24 hours after the release of the letter, Ardalan Payvar, member of Arash Sobhani’s Kiosk band left the group, a move that sharply signifies the popular feeling about the letter. For a wrong letter written by wrong people and addressed to the wrong person in the wrong time no better reactions could be envisioned.