For many Iranians the desire to support their compatriots inside the country is an essential part of their identity – whether they live in Europe, the United States or any other part of the world. Some help children in urgent medical need to receive better treatment in the West. Others help a young generation inside Iran to better connect to new technology and share their vision of a different Iran. And then there are those who help appease the Iranian dictatorship under the cover of more engagement. The organizers of the iBridges conference in Berlin belong to that last group. They might not know it themselves, but they do. It is quite astonishing how they dare to abuse the longing of a tech-savy young generation, trapped in a vicious authoritarian regime, to justify their political goal of lifting economic sanctions and cementing the power of a ruthless regime.
What deserves the heaviest of criticism is how this conference is conducted and who its speakers are. Let’s talk about names. Farshad Nowshadi is one of them. He’s a banker, but not just any kind of banker. He serves as Advisor to the CEO and Board of Saman Bank – sanctioned under US law. Another speaker is Dr. Sabri Saidam, Chairman of Netketabi and an advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas. One of the “nicer” things Mr. Saidam has said recently is that Palestinians must form a more united front and push their case at the International Criminal Court – in plain language: after decades of terrorism they should now engage in diplomatic terror against the only democracy in the Middle East. Mr. Saidam has also contributed in a much more radical way to Israel hatred. In 2011 at a ceremony that honored Palestinian terrorist Dalal al – Mughrabi he said: “We stand here in praise of our martyrs and in loyalty to all the martyrs of the national movement.” Al – Mughrabi committed as part of a militant group an attack on a bus that killed 35 Israelis. This act of terror happened in 1978.
How exactly is the participation of these two speakers helping Iran’s young generation? What can Iranian entrepreneurs in the technology field learn from the backwardness of a Palestinian advisor and a collaborator with Iran’s dictatorship who’s financial institution is on an international sanctions list? What is it that the organizers of this event want to send out to the world? How come the Iranian Revolutionary Guards gave up their initial fear about this conference and let the supposedly moderate government of Rouhani go through with assuring Iranians to come all the way from Iran to Berlin?
Isn’t it all about the manifestation of the status quo? Meaning opening up trade and having less then zero political change inside the country. Does anything else make sense here? Because if the organizers really meant to support the Iranian society they’d have gone differently about this event: technology – and with it surveillance – is firmly in the hands of the IRGC. Entrepreneurs as well as political activists need to break the power of the IRGC to engage in a free economy and a liberal democracy. Both are linked to each other – a free society can only exists when there’s a free economy and vice versa. Therefore supporting Iran’s young emerging independent business people doesn’t function in the public eye – it is simply too dangerous. It’s the safe and secret Internet connections, the networking in a safe environment and the political assurance and moral solidarity that counts and helps them to bypass Iran’s authoritarian leaders. This is why iBridges hosted in Berlin from 4th – 6th of June has taken appeasement to a whole new level. Before it was the energy field and now it is the technology field – the one area where Iran’s civil society is most vulnerable.
Looking at the Iranian presenters from all over the world engaging in this conference, I can’t help but think: where has their Iranian identity gone? Did they ever had one? How else can you on an emotional and political level falsely convince yourself that trade will bring change to Iran? Has it ever worked before in the 36 years of severe darkness for human rights in Iran?