How to help Iran’s democracy survive and flourish

If one were to err on the side of optimism, one would interpret the protests that have taken place in Iran this past week as being the beginning of a period of significant change. Demonstrations of this scale and intensity have not been seen in Iran since the Islamic revoultion of 1979. This is the first time Iranians have so vocally spelled out their disillusionment and discontent with their post-revolutionary government. Much of this has come as a suprise to non-Iranians, many of whom believed the majority of Iranians support the current regime.

During the last few days’ demonstrations, people in Iran have been heard chanting en masse ‘death to the dictator’, four words that eighteen months ago landed a handful of university students in jail. In the street of major Iranian cities, protesters have been shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ (‘God is mighty’), a common refrain from the days of the Islamic revolution. There is a sense now that anything can happen, that change may be just around the corner, and that if their country’s leaders aren’t listening to their voices, then maybe God is.

Sadly, the reality is that the ruling clerics, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his support base will not be releasing their grip on power any time soon. In the past, the regime has been all too comfortable using extreme violence, torture and intimidation to quash protesters and stop dissent dead in its tracks. If the confrontations we have witnessed the last few days escalate over the course of the next few weeks, many more Iranians will be brutalized and sadly many more will be killed. The hardliners have no qualms about stamping out the opposition to prevent a breakdown of their rule; but equally there are probably thousands of desperate young Iranians who feel they have nothing left to lose and would willingly martyr themselves for a just cause.

The leaders of Western nations can watch from the sidelines and condemn Tehran’s mishandling of its election crisis and the brutal attacks on its citizens. But what more can be done by the West? What more needs to be done?

Dropping bombs on Tehran is obviously not the right solution and wouldn’t be justified given the current circumstances. No one wants another Iraq, and clearly the West’s lesson from Iran’s neighbour is that change has to come from within if we want it to be sustainable. How about more economic sanctions ? Absolutely not as these would hurt ordinary Iranians and would further serve to tighten the regime’s grip on the impoverished masses.

If the West wants to help what’s left of Iran’s ‘democracy’ survive and flourish — and what we are witnessing now is very precious beginning — a different sort of economic tool needs to be used, one that will transcend the current crisis and target its very source. By freezing foreign assets and bank accounts of all key figures — government ministers, clerics, and millionaire bureaucrats, many of whom have pilfered huge sums from the state — the West will be hitting where it hurts and will be showing that it won’t just stand by and watch.

Kourosh Elahi is an Iranian activist living in London

and is the founder of myvoteIranUK

They have orgnaised a peaceful demonstration

to take place in London’s Parliament Square

on Saturday 20 June at 12 noon.

(facebook and twitter: myvoteiranuk)

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