After the Nuclear Accord: Celebrating the Agreement, Hoping for Change

Dr. Raz Zimmt analyzes the discussion on Iranian social media surrounding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the prospects for change moving forward.

When news of the July 14 nuclear agreement between Iran and the Western powers became known, Iranian social media were flooded with joyous, enthusiastic responses from thousands of Iranian citizens. Many Iranians expressed their satisfaction with the agreement, and referred to it as “a victory.” [1]Manifestations of joy quickly spread onto the streets of Tehran and other cities, which were filled with thousands of young people who shared photos of the celebrations on social media. Users created a hashtag #IranWinsPeace for uploading reports and images expressing their happiness with the agreement that was reached.

From the online discourse, it is evident that the expressions of joy can be attributed mainly to Iranian public’s deeply-felt expectation that the country’s economic situation will improve after the anticipated lifting of sanctions following the agreement. Indeed, the ensuing conversation rarely dealt with the contents of the agreement relating to restrictions on the nuclear program and the supervision of nuclear facilities, but focused primarily on expressions of happiness and hope that the economic situation will improve. The night before the agreement, exiled Iranian journalist Behrooz Kazemi wrote on his Facebook page: “Tonight might be the last evening of sanctions. Hopefully tomorrow we can march towards the day when we will be a normal country, like many others, a country without sanctions.” [2] Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi uploaded screenshots of cell phones with text messages full of hope to his Twitter account, sent by Iranians after the agreement was announced. In one message, an Iranian citizen wrote, “Today is a unforgettable day in the modern history of Iran, July 14 must be added to the political calendar of Iran.”[3]

Many comments also included expressions of appreciation for President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, who managed the negotiations for the Iranian side. Users uploaded cartoons published in reformist newspapers that depicted Zarif as a national hero, comparing him to heroes from Iranian history, such as former prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was responsible for the nationalization of oil in the early fifties; Amir Kabir, the prime minister and most respected reformer during the Qajar dynasty in the 19th century; and the legendary archer Arash, who fought in the name of Iran and its honor after it was defeated by the Turanian Kingdom. It should be noted that the fierce confrontation between Zarif and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, during the last week of talks in Vienna, contributed significantly to his public prestige at home. On July 8, diplomatic sources reported that during a meeting between negotiators from Iran and the West, Mogherini threatened to leave, to which Zarif retorted: “Never threaten an Iranian.”[4] This response sparked a surge of expressions of national pride on social media, and Iranians users created the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian for use when uploading comments in support of the Foreign Minister, who was depicted as giant, green superhero The Hulk.

Iran’s radical right, its Arab neighbors, and Israel, however, were subjected to torrents of criticism and presented the biggest losers in the nuclear deal. Following the harsh criticism he voiced against the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the target of especially hostile reactions. Responses included invectives, slurs, and death wishes. [5]Alongside the displays of happiness and expectations for a better economic situation, many users expressed hope that the nuclear deal would lead also to improvements in the human rights situation in Iran. Responses to the agreement included, among other things, calls for President Rouhani to keep his election promise and act to release two opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been held under house arrest for over  four years, and to promote civil and political reforms in Iran. [6] Reformist journalist and author Reza Alijani wrote on his Facebook page that he is awaiting the day when free and democratic elections can be celebrated in the streets of Iran. [7] Moreover, many users expressed hopes for improved ties and normalized relations with the United States. “I hope that the slogan, ‘Death to America’ will be canceled,” wrote one user. [8]

Alongside the expressions of joy and buoyed expectations, online disuccion also included expressions of pessimism and skepticism about the future. Users argued that the expectations for improvements in the situation of the Iranian citizens following the nuclear agreement are unfounded. One of them wrote that there was no reason to celebrate, because the citizens’ problems will not be solved, the money taken from the Iranian people will not be returned to them or used for their benefit; the prices of gas, water and electricity will not be reduced; and unemployment will not disappear. [9] According to others, there is no reason to celebrate an agreement that returns Iran to the situation it was in before the sanctions were imposed. In this spirit, one commentator  wrote a parable: the people celebrating the agreement on social media are like a farmer who has complained to his master that his small room is inadequate for the needs of his family. In  response, the master sends him and his family to sleep in the yard. A few days later, the master agrees to let them return to the little room, and in response, the farmer incessantly thanked him for his kindness. The moral, according to user, is obviously that the Iranian people are celebrating an agreement that returns them to the same conditions in which they lived a decade ago.[10]  Many users went even further, arguing that the funds flowing to Iran following the agreement will not help the people of Iran anyway, since they will be used to assist foreign countries or to fill the private coffers of the country’s rulers. One user wrote sarcastically that the citizens of Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Syria and Sudan are the ones who should celebrate the nuclear deal, for they are the one who will benefit from the funds. Another user wrote that the money will not reach the pockets of ordinary citizens, but the clergy will become even wealthier.[11]

In conclusion, responses to the nuclear accords by Iranian social media users show widespread support from the people of Iran for the agreement, as well as the intensity of expectation both for an improved economic situation and more individual freedoms. Therefore, the lack of proper response to the aspirations of the public could lead to a crisis of expectations that would pose a significant challenge to the Iranian regime.


[4]  "Zarif to EU's Mogherini: Never Threaten an Iranian," Fars News, 8 July 2015/