OPINION: Europe Should Revise Its Narrative Towards Iran


By Saba Farzan, Dena Ziari, Amir Etemadi and Damon Golriz


Nov 11 – The principal reason European officials think the financial ties they have forged will change the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran derives from a narrative that thinks helping a stable but dictatorial state is better than hearing the voice of millions of Iranians calling for structural change.

There are many metaphors and allegories fitting the problem with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the multiple threats it poses to global security, but as we pen this opinion piece we cannot help but think of one specific image: an empty train station with 28 passengers waiting on a track for a train that will never arrive. These 28 passengers are the member states of the European Union and the never arriving train is their desire for normal relations under the current circumstances with what can only be called a theocratic dictatorship.

It’s understandable that Europe wants a peaceful bond with Iran – right at the doorstep of Europe is a huge market with a population of nearly 80 million people of significant young age. It is the only country in the Middle East with an industrial base, and its vast natural resources would benefit both Iran’s internal revenue as well as Europe’s high demand on energy. In an ideal situation, both partners would have a lot to gain from such close economic ties, and that is exactly why the current European policy is so wrong: instead of changing things for the better it is contributing to an already existing disaster: a wave of immigrants in need of refuge coming to Europe as they flee conflict, because of further destabilization of the Middle East, and an Iranian nation that wants to live up to its potential but is denied that inalienable right under the current system.

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives at the EU council in Brussels, Belgium May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

It is a government that first and foremost terrorizes its own people, restricts simple freedoms, has plundered the nation’s wealth into the ground, has one of the worst records of human rights abuses in the world, and has sought nothing but destruction in the Middle Eastern region. It is therefore responsible for the most challenging issue facing Europe today: the refugee crisis. As the Islamic Republic of Iran is actively involved in one of the worst proxy-conflicts that the twenty-first has seen, causing some of the worst humanitarian crises that we have seen.

It is responsible for perpetuating the conflict in Syria and Yemen, the latter of which according to the UN will cause the worst famine of the next century, while it is busy funding many proxy terrorist groups as they seek to gain sectarian control of the region through conflict, all at the expense of its own people and the escalation of bloodshed and terrorism in the region and beyond. All the while, people at home chant anti-regime slogans saying, “no to Gaza and Lebanon,” calling for the government to think of the people of the nation for a change, people who are struggling, some of whom have not received wages for months, and struggle to sustain their families and simple lives, as the government has plundered and pocketed the nation’s vast wealth and natural resources. While Europe is worried that it is unable to handle more mass migration that could potentially destabilize the continent, it continues to seek to contain a regime that is complicit in the genocide taking place in Syria and Yemen. If it continues with its current policies, destabilization of the European continent looks more likely as the migration of people fleeing conflict in search of refuge will only increase.

Maybe European officials think that their doctrine of containment will change the Islamic Republic of Iran in the long run, believing it will one day reform. Or maybe Europe wants to balance the current policies of the United States by continuing to lend its political support for the Iran Nuclear Deal that the US recently withdrew from. But this desire of reform inside the Iranian State, however hopeful they are, however long they are willing to wait, and however much cash and political support they are willing to throw at the problem, is a misnomer. It is in our view that the main reason for European officials thinking that their doctrine of containment will change the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran derives from a narrative that thinks helping a stable but dictatorial state is better than hearing the voice of millions of Iranians calling for structural change. The latter is evolving on a daily basis, all the while Europe seems unwilling to hear, or find a way to support, that voice.

Under the current President Rouhani, considered to be a “moderate” and reformist, execution rates increased to the highest number ever, executing more people in the first 14 months of his presidency than the previous hard-line president did in his entire time in office. The executions continue, all the while Europe prides itself on being the only political body to have a ‘dialogue’ with the Islamic Republic on their human rights abuses, but this is a dialogue that has clearly made little difference. Either way Europe is concentrating its energy and ears on the wrong issues from the wrong people here.

As the third round of US sanctions as a new policy of applying Maximum Pressure on Tehran is now upon us, many European companies and banks have already stopped doing business with Iran. There is no political guarantee that will change the rationale of the decision making processes of a big business: the bigger market counts, always. Contrary to some comments, these European private-sector businesses have not been pressured to cease trade with Iran, but they have been given a choice, and they chose the larger market. The European Union has a choice too. It can realize that another train is leaving — one that lets Transatlantic unity evolve to enable it to deal with one of the largest dangers for both continents, and it should get on board the right side of history. The EU is powerful enough to formulate its own doctrine without relying on the US, but should be with the aim of traveling towards the same direction. Or it can continue to stand all by itself on the current track of containing the Islamic Republic, where their dream of the arrival of a train that goes towards peaceful and prosperous relations under the current conditions will actually never arrive.

Genuine change is an inevitability, because it is the only way towards a free, secular, and democratic country. Four decades after the Islamic Revolution we, alongside the 80 percent of the Iranians under the age of forty, envision a time in the not too distant future where genuinely peaceful ties and prosperous relations between a modern Iran and other open societies will no longer be a dream but will be a reality – values that Iran’s civil society already holds very close to their hearts and minds. The question remains, however, will Europe choose to keep containing the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran or will it choose to pro-actively listen and act by hearing the voice of the Iranian people?


[Saba Farzan, Dena Ziari, Amir Etemadi and Damon Golriz are founding members of Iran Revival, (also called Farashgard), an Iranian political advocacy group which was established in September, 2018. The group advocates the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thereafter the implementation of a secular democracy in Iran. The organization also aims to place Crown Prince of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, at the centre of its advocacy].