Maryam Mohseni '24
Following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iranian morality police, protestors took to the streets. The already unstable country has been further destabilized with calls for the overthrow of the current government and a total regime change, as well as foreign intervention, namely from the United States. This is nothing new. In fact, opposition forces have been growing in the Islamic Republic of Iran from the moment it was established, and in the past few years social unrest has become more and more prevalent. Although we hear that these protests are as a result of mandatory hijab laws and the death of Mahsa Amini, the reality is much more complicated and layered. The country has been suffering from systematic corruption and economic mismanagement for decades now. Social and economic mobility is practically impossible, current inflation rates are at least at 50%, and poverty rates are estimated to be at 60%. So, for the protestors, Mahsa Amini’s death was simply a stark reminder of everything that is going wrong in the country.
As people take to the streets to protest, there is no clear path as to what comes next and what role the rest of the world plays in this social strife. It is highly unlikely that the government will reform itself. However, calls for the intervention of the United States are a mistake. Historically, United States intervention in the Middle East has never resulted in a positive outcome as measured by economic growth, political stability, and democratic governance. Take Afghanistan, for example. In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban. Twenty years later, with hundreds of thousands of casualties, trillions of dollars spent, and a new wave of the refugee crisis, the war seems to have taken us nowhere: the Taliban are back in power. Similarly, the U.S. invasion and later occupation of Iraq resulted in more than one million Iraqi deaths, destroyed the country's infrastructure, triggered ongoing sectarian and ethnic upheavals, and left the country with no clear path forward. History need not repeat itself for the third time.
Additionally, the US foreign policy towards the region has made it clear over the past seven decades that it does not prioritize the Iranian people or true democracy and democratic governance. In 1953, Mohamad Mosadeq was democratically elected as the prime minister of Iran, and he introduced a series of radical policies including the nationalization of Iranian oil. Afraid that Mosadeq would disrupt the cheap oil supply to the West and withdraw profitable oil reserves from the hands of Western companies, the United States and the United Kingdom staged a coup détat overthrowing Mosadeq and reinstating the king, violating the sovereignty of the Iranian people and their inalienable right to democratically elect a leader. For the next 26 years, the US supported and armed the shah’s (king) regime — a monarchy, and since the inception of the Islamic Republic, the United States has imposed various legal and economic sanctions on Iran, which have only toughened over the years. These sanctions do no harm to the political and social elite and only serve to further cripple the working-class people of Iran. So why the sanctions if it is not hurting the elite? Through the sanctions, the US is aiming to make life so miserable for working class Iranians that they would eventually revolt against the regime or at the very least pressure the regime to alter its course.
If the United States truly wanted to help the Iranian people it would alleviate the economic sanctions it has imposed, yet it is doing the opposite. As protests have erupted, the United States has threatened to further impose sanctions on Iran, which would only worsen the economic strife under which Iranian people are living. Additionally, it would be wise of the U.S. to consider its own systematic violence against Black and Brown people before threatening to impose more sanctions against Iran for a similar crime.
In truth, if the United States were to get involved in Iran it would only do so for its own political and economic benefit and if history were any indication, it would leave the country worse off. Ultimately the social strife in Iran can only be successfully solved by the Iranian people themselves, and while I don’t believe in the United States’ intervention in the conflict, I do believe there are many other ways one can support the Iranian people in their fight for democracy and economic prosperity. Educating ourselves about the history of the region, providing material support to those suffering economically (which currently is prohibited under the economic sanctions), and raising public awareness are some possible ways to support the Iranian cause.