#untr_US_table: Iranian Reactions to the American Withdrawal from the Nuclear Agreement

Raz Zimmt assesses the opinions of Iranian users regarding the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.
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Before and After the Agreement. From Twitter.
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Poster distributed on Twitter, with the captions: Before the agreement and after the agreement.



The decision of United States President Donald Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran sparked a heated debate on Iranian social media, which reflected growing concern over the renewal of the economic sanctions previously imposed on the country by the international community, as well as criticism of the Americans’ decision to break the agreement. It is clear that this decision sharpened the differences between the political factions in Iran regarding the nuclear agreement, relations with the United States and government policy.

The unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement provoked broad public opposition in Iran, not only from the supporters of Iranian President Rouhani and the reformists, who presented it as a blatant violation of the terms of the agreement, especially considering the fact that Iran carefully followed its clauses, but also among hardliners who had reservations about the agreement from the beginning. The reactions of users show that Trump’s decision reinforced the Iranian public’s distrust of the US, which was expressed by the widespread use of the hashtag #untr_US_table.

Indeed, Trump’s move provided Rouhani’s opponents on the conservative right with an opportunity to challenge his erroneous decision to sign the agreement, which they perceived as a document of surrender that made painful concessions without compensation. To ridicule the president and criticize supporters of the agreement, they used the rhyming (in Farsi) hashtag #Barjamnafarjam, which means “failed JCPO.” “Now we can say with absolute confidence that the Rouhani government has not had any major achievements in the last five years,” wrote one user.[1] Television host and radical online activist Vahid Yamin-Pour tweeted that the people who celebrated the nuclear agreement in 2015 had learned nothing from the agreements of surrender that Iran had signed in the past, such as the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) in which Iran relinquished large areas under its control to Russia. He wondered whether this time the lesson of the nuclear agreement would be learned, or if it too would be forgotten.[2]

Conversely, the president’s supporters in the reformist camp emphasized their continued support for the agreement despite the United States’ withdrawal. Journalist and reformist activist Hamid Reza Jalaeipour outlined in a post uploaded to his Telegram account the benefit that Iran had gained from signing the agreement that, in his opinion, rescued the country from the economic crisis it suffered during President Ahmadinejad’s term, showed to the world that Iran is committed to a diplomatic solution, and improved its image in the eyes of global public opinion.[3]

Meanwhile, reformist activists took advantage of current events to encourage the government to promote internal reforms that would strengthen internal cohesion in light of the new challenges Iran now faces. Journalist Omid Tousheh wrote in his Twitter account that Iran’s main problem is not the US withdrawal from the agreement, but rather its citizens’ deep mistrust of decision-makers. He called on the government to change its policy to resolve the crisis of trust, for example by stopping the activities of the Morality Police and releasing reformist opposition leaders from house arrest.[4] Another user called for taking advantage of the situation to promote civil reforming including expanding individual liberties, removing barriers to access social media networks, strengthening civil society institutions, and respecting freedom of the press. [5]

The reformists’ demand to take advantage of the circumstances to promote civil reform reflects their growing criticism of Rouhani, whom they supported, for allegedly not fulfilling his promises to the public that he would expand civil liberties were he to be elected to the Presidency.

The reactions on social media expressed not only conflicting positions regarding the nuclear agreement and the government’s policies, but also diverse assessments regarding the expected impact of Trump’s decision on Iran’s economic situation. Many users expressed grave concern over the worsening of the economic crisis following the renewal of the sanctions. “We are advancing at the speed of light toward economic collapse,” one user warned.[6] Users cast doubt on the willingness of other Western countries, especially European states, to stand with Iran and to oppose renewed economic sanctions. Doubts were also raised regarding the government’s ability to provide effective solutions in light of the resumption of sanctions. One user questioned President Rouhani’s statement that he had a plan ready in case Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement. “If this plan is similar to his plan for controlling of the price of the dollar, there is nothing to worry about,” one user responded sarcastically, referring to the continued collapse of Iran’s local currency, the rial.[7] Conversely, other users minimized the importance of the US withdrawal from the agreement, contending that it did not obligate the remaining signatories, and because its benefit to the ordinary Iranian citizen was limited in any case. Amir Ebtehaj, a journalist, tweeted that the nuclear agreement had not changed anything for Iranian workers, and that there was no significant difference between their situation before and after the agreement.[8]

The voices of users who supported the US administration’s decision were not absent from the social media discourse. They expressed the hope that increasing pressure on Iran would lead to political change and the collapse of the Islamic regime, especially considering the popular protests that have continued in recent months. Many users used the hashtags #ThankYouTrump and #WeAreCaptives, the latter echoing Trump’s statement announcing withdrawal from the agreement, in which he described the Iranian peoples as captives of a tyrannical regime ever since the Islamic revolution. Although it is impossible to assess the extent to which this position reflects the views of the Iranian public, it is clear that it was voiced mainly by Iranian exiles who, because they reside abroad, are scarcely affected by the impact of the economic sanctions.

The discourse on Iranian social media surrounding the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement exposes the complex positions of the Iranian public, and may help assess its response to the restitution of external pressure on the country. On the one hand, the users’ reactions reflect the intensity of their fear of the agreement’s collapse and the renewal of the sanctions that might exacerbate Iran’s economic crisis. This scenario is expected to thoroughly destroy citizens’ hopes for economic improvement, strengthen criticism of the regime’s policy, and cause an upsurge in popular protests. On the other hand, they express widespread public opposition to the policy of sanctions, which have long been perceived in Iran as an illegitimate means of pressure imposed by the West that harms not only the regime, but mainly ordinary citizens. This approach may serve the regime to mobilize public support against the West, which will be portrayed as bearing primary responsibility for exacerbating the economic distress of the ordinary Iranian citizen.

 



[1] Twitter, May 14, 2018.    

[2] Twitter, May 14, 2018.

[3] @hamidrezajalaeipoor, Telegram, May 10, 2018.  

[4] Twitter, May 14, 2018.

[5] Twitter, May 14, 2018.

[6] Twitter, May 14, 2018.

[7] Twitter, May 14, 2018.

[8] Twitter, May 14, 2018.