• 27 July 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • Sanctions

How Sanctions Actually Help the Regime

Although Iran has been under some form of sanctions since 1979, today it faces indiscriminate sanctions so severe that ordinary Iranian citizens are being hurt the most. Reports have already indicated that sanctions are adversely affecting public health, personal finance, public education, and progressive social movements in Iran. Still, Western lawmakers claim that this is the unfortunate price that must be paid in order for regime change in Iran to be possible. Their argument is simple and unproven: economic pressure will trigger popular unrest that eventually overthrows the regime. However, the demonstrated reality is quite different: sanctions are lending power to the regime, and in turn crippling the people who are crying for change.

In the past, the government’s of sanctioned countries have been able to manipulate the effects of sanctions to reward supporters and disproportionally weaken opposition. Political scientist Dan Drezner explains: “In authoritarian regimes, leaders had an incentive to create private and excludable goods for supporters, as opposed to public goods for the mass citizenry.” Robert Worth, a journalist for the New York Times, notes: “Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market.”

In addition to the regime’s ability to manipulate sanctions to their benefit, women and the middle class have emerged as the two groups most severely affected by sanctions.  Both groups are fundamental in Iran’s quest for progressive social and political change, and the regime consistently fights to repress these efforts. Sanctions help the regime’s efforts by impeding, and often reversing, the progress that these groups have struggled to make.


According to a recent report by the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), “Women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social impact of sanctions.” In a deeply patriarchal society like Iran, opportunities for women are already limited. Although there has been recent progress, the economic hardship induced by sanctions has allowed the conservative government to push forward agendas that limit women’s access to education and jobs, and encourage women to solely play the role of wife or mother. Less than ten years ago, before indiscriminate sanctions took effect, women regularly pushed back against this conservative agenda and were even effective in removing the quota system that limited women’s access to higher education. However, today this system has been enacted, and many conservatives continue to argue that women should not receive higher education and do not belong in the work force. Even school age girls are suffering from sanctions, as they are increasingly at risk of not receiving an education: when faced with financial limitations, families are more inclined to choose boys when forced to decide which child will attend school.

By inhibiting women’s role in the public sphere, the regime is effective in maintaining the male dominated society they desire, and silencing the demands of women. Educated women in all countries, classes, and races are key for effective social and political change.  This holds true in Iran, as the ICAN report observes: “Educated women from middle and traditional working classes across rural and urban areas, among the rich and the poor, have been the primary engine of socio-political change in Iran. The demand for equal rights and equal socio-political, economic and cultural rights permeates every level of society.” Thus, as sanctions disproportionally hurt women, hope for meaningful political, economic and social change in Iran diminishes.


The second group hurt most by indiscriminate sanctions is Iran’s urban middle class. These are the same people that flooded the streets after the contested election in 2009, and were the base of the grassroots Green Movement. However, increasing economic hardship and the prospect of war has placed social activism on the backburner, as job security and safety have become more pressing concerns. The regime feels less threatened by middle class dissent; the economic hardship brought on by sanctions stifles this dissent even more effectively.

Sanctions aimed at weakening Iran through isolation are clearly succeeding if the intent was to keep middle class Iranians from traveling outside of Iran. While this may seem like a small price to pay, the reality is that sanctions are limiting access to international forums and conferences that could assist progressive change in Iran. The Iranian government already restricts many citizens from attending such conferences, but due to sanctions and new limitations on Iranian travel enacted by other countries, the middle class is increasingly unable to afford such luxuries.

Also, as we saw in 2009, the Internet and other communication tools are key for activists in Iran to increase awareness and build solidarity. However, by limiting access to secure and safe online communication tools, sanctions are aiding the regime in silencing the voices of activists who are pushing for social and political change.

The argument that sanctions help facilitate regime change is clearly not the case in Iran.  Instead, sanctions are helping the regime solidify its power, while weakening the very groups that are fighting for change. The U.S. and EU should be holding the regime accountable for its repression, not weakening those who the regime fears most through indiscriminate sanctions.

Posted By Roshan Alemi

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7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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