The Biden administration has wisely decided to review the United States’ use of economic sanctions. According to the Wall Street Journal, President Joe Biden aims to “stem sweeping pressure campaigns, avoid collateral economic damage and act jointly with allies rather than unilaterally.” This is a welcomed decision, and hopefully the review will also study the negative political consequences of broad-based economic sanctions. The rise of Iranian ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi is the latest example of how the economic hardship imposed on civilian populations through sanctions tends to favor the very political entities the United States views as most problematic.
Many have declared that the historically low turnout in Iran’s presidential elections last month — 48.78% though only about 42% if not counting the blank and invalid votes — is the official death certificate of the Iranian reform movement and the very idea that the Iranian system can be reformed from within. Moreover, using the theocracy’s own measuring stick of viewing voter participation as a sign of its legitimacy, the low-turnout has been seen in many quarters as a rejection of the system as a whole.
These arguments presume, however, that the support for the reform movement was rooted in the belief that reforming the Iranian system was an affirmation of the Iranian theocracy. On the contrary, given the bitter experience of the 1979 Revolution, the non-violent reform movement has largely been the preferred path due to its low cost and low risk characteristics, compared to more drastic approaches, such as revolts and armed resistance.
What happened in the 2021 election was a clear signal that confidence in the utility of the low cost/low risk strategy of voting in the elections have taken a significant hit — but without the population necessarily shifting toward more drastic approaches. Until that happens, it appears premature to declare the reform movement dead since it wasn’t favored on its own merits as much as on the lack of merits of alternative approaches. Still, the idea of seeking change through elections has lost profound credibility, as has the reform movement. However, solely pointing to the open engineering of the candidate slate as the reason for this loss of confidence is problematic.
Read the full article in Inkstick Media.