In case anyone was wondering, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the rest of America’s political class are with the protesters in Iran. Statements have been issued. Tweets have been tweeted. Virtue has been signaled.
Like the last time Iranians took to the streets, in 2009, these easy acts of solidarity are self-satisfying. But they do not substitute for policy or strategy. It’s time for the hard part.
That starts with recognizing that the Iranians chanting their rejection of an Islamic dictatorship in front of police officers, state-backed militias and mosques are now targets. The state’s revolutionary guard corps, which runs most of Iran’s economy like a mafia consortium, has already telegraphed the coming crackdown. So far at least 12 have been killed in clashes with police. The regime has started shutting down social media platforms like Telegram that Iranians use to organize these protests. President Hassan Rouhani — remember when he was everybody’s favorite “moderate”? — is warning demonstrators about destroying public property.
Like all dictatorships, Iran’s doesn’t work if its citizens are unafraid of the state. The videos of demonstrations and brazen acts arson that have filled the Telegram channels of Iranian dissidents in the last few months, show that fear is receding. The regime will try to restore it.
This requires a quick reaction from the West. The State Department, for example, should work closely with Telegram, WhatsApp and other platforms in Iran to figure out ways around the state’s cyber-ban. These social media companies should beware of the Iranian regime’s allies using their codes of conduct to kick off legitimate journalists and activists. This happened to Potkin Azarmehr, a U.K.-based broadcaster who was one of the first outside journalists to begin documenting the protests this week.