By Claude Salhani
Yet again the Iranian leadership has responded to protests from its citizens with violence. Instead of listening to people’s complaints over rising prices and a failing economy, the government sent out its goon squads to attack, arrest and imprison protesters, with pro-government media calling for capital punishment to be implemented. Such is the “democracy” offered by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Triggered by the recent government decision to raise the price of gasoline by 50%, huge crowds have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities in Iran. This comes on the heels of already harsh sanctions and difficult economic times.
Some of the protesters have voiced their anger over the government’s interference in foreign conflicts, primarily Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. They have drained away millions of dollars from the Iranian economy.
Fearful that the demonstrations could continue to be easily coordinated, the government shut down access to the internet.
One of the principal positive by-products of the internet is that it has denied authoritarian regimes the monopoly they previously had on the dissemination of information.
The Iranian regimes and those like it are terrified of the internet.
They are afraid of the internet because they cannot control all its aspects. They feel somewhat naked, unable to censure what they don’t like or what they disagree with.
They are ill at ease with individuals being able to think for themselves, to dare to harbour thoughts not transmitted by the government. No independent thinking, if you please.
So they will do exactly what other authoritarian regimes have done in the past when they feared the pressure from their people — from the street. They will try to silence the masses as best they can.
Such is the degree of paranoia that, US intelligence sources said, Iran uses some 35,000 volunteers to monitor all e-mail traffic going in and out of the country.
The mullahs who find themselves at the top echelon of the ruling class in Tehran believe they may have found a quick fix to their worries — simply block all access to internet service, which, alas, they do control. Well almost. Sort of.
Which is it? Does the government in Iran control the internet? Or not?
Well, the government in Tehran controls the internet no more and no less than other countries control it. What they do control is the point of entry and exit of information into and out of the country. However, there are always ways around the controllers. For example, if one has access to a cellphone or computer other than one connected through the domestic networks or a satellite telephone, one can manage to connect.
The very reason the internet was created was precisely to allow the uninterrupted flow of information, independent of the government in case of conflict where the major communication centres were disrupted or incapacitated.
But this system, this preoccupation, this thinking of guaranteeing the free flow of information was designed for people who are concerned with the idea of guaranteeing continuous flow of the truth.
It was not designed for authoritarian systems of governance.
By blocking the entire country from access to the internet, Iran is borrowing a page from the book of fallen dictatorships.
Iran is not the first country, nor is it likely to be the last, to attempt to impose strict censorship on its people.
The Iranian leadership should be aware that no barriers, however, can stand today between freedom-yearning populations and the outside world.
As was demonstrated by endless streams of government leaks regarding Iran’s spying activities in the region and the confirmation of its bellicose designs against Saudi Aramco, Tehran’s double talk and plain lying are not impervious to the spotlight of truth. Iran’s clerics might cherish their obsolete ideologies but they cannot keep their populations and much less the rest of the world in the dark about their true designs and blatant failings.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.