The pictures of the grassroots protests in Iran against the regime are both inspiring and heart wrenching. As of today, more than 20 protesters have been killed and hundreds have been arrested. The pictures also raise several questions. President Trump tweeted, “The world is watching”. I would argue that Iranians are watching the world. And the most important question is this: How will the international community respond to the legitimate demands of the people of Iran?
The facts is that since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the people of Iran have not seen the expected benefits of relief from economic sanctions.
Unemployment among young people is high (estimated at over 30%), the prices of basic food staples are rising, and there is inflation.
There are basically three causes for Iran’s economic problems: widespread corruption, mismanagement of the economy and Iran’s reckless polices in the wider Middle East.
The slogans chanted in the streets of Mashad, Qom and Tehran tell it all. Protesters are shouting: “Forget about Palestine, forget about Gaza, think about us”, “Death to Hezbollah“, and “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead”.
Putting it simply, the people of Iran, who are hungry for a government that meets their basic needs, are fed up with a regime that is obsessed with “exporting the Islamic revolution”.
For decades, Iran has spent billions of dollars funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Last year, it was estimated that Iran spent more than $800 million on Hezbollah, alone.
In addition to Iran’s financial support for Hezbollah, we have seen disturbing developments on Israel’s northern border. Iran has been building factories for the production of long-range accurate missiles for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. There is no doubt that the target of these missiles will be Israel. And this comes in addition to the 120,000 rockets and missiles supplied by Iran to Hezbollah since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Iran has provided the Assad regime with massive financial support, an endless supply of ammunition and weapons and tens of thousands of fighters from its Revolutionary Guard Corps and from its loyal proxy, Hezbollah. In addition, Iran has recruited, trained and deployed thousands of loyal Shia militants from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to Syria.
And all this to prop up a brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who is guilty of committing war crimes against his own people.
The cost for the people of Syria: nearly half a million dead and more than five million refugees. And who is footing the bill for all this? The people of Iran.
Experts estimate that since 2011, Iran has been spending between $6 billion and $35 billion per year in Syria.
Unfortunately, the international community has been sending Iran mixed messages on its support for terrorism and the Syrian regime. Since Iran is still designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, U.S. law forbids most American companies from returning to Iran. However, this is not the case for the rest of the world.
Following the signing of the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) in 2015, hundreds of major multinational companies have sought to return to do business in Iran.
So here’s the catch: You can’t condemn Iran’s support for terrorism and the Syrian regime on one day, and sign lucrative business deals in Iran the next day. This irresponsible corporate behavior sends the Iranian regime the message that there is an economic reward for defying all norms of international behavior.
That is why the organization I represent, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), has been working hard to highlight the risks of doing business in Iran. Since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, UANI has sent letters to hundreds of major multinational companies to highlight those risks.
According to the UANI website, “There remain serious legal, political, financial, and reputational risks associated with doing business in Iran, particularly in sectors of the Iranian economy dominated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which remains sanctioned by the U.S. Government and the international community as a terrorist organization…In light of such risks, it should be clear to all responsible companies that Iran is not genuinely “open for business.”
Through their grass-roots protests, the people of Iran are not only sending a message to their own government, they are also a sending a cry for help to the international community.
For too long, the world has turned a blind eye to Iran’s destructive behavior in the Middle East. For too long, the prospect of profits from business with Iran have come at the cost of the lives of tens of thousands of innocent victims of Iran’s violent proxies like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
While the world is watching, the people of Iran are watching us. The real question is: How will we respond?