DW: The main reason behind public protests in Iran is the people’s frustration with the economic situation in the country. Are there also other factors that have forced Iranians to take to the streets?
Paulo Casaca: Economic issues ignited a protest movement that quickly translated into something bigger, with people demanding the regime change, an end to theocracy and its replacement with a democratic form of government.
Do you think the protests could escalate and lead to the downfall of the theocratic regime in Iran?
Yes. There is no way this isolated regime can survive this crisis this time. No one in the country and outside Iran believes anymore in the “conservative-reformists” charade. The regime has only kept it intact through repression. The question is that will the conditions that allowed, for instance, the Syrian regime to continue despite its unpopularity, also apply in Iran?
Women’s liberation has become a key demand of many Iranian protesters. Saudi Arabia also seems to be gradually allowing more freedom to women. Why are we seeing a feminist movement in Iran and Saudi Arabia at this point in time?
Misogyny is a trademark of the old conservative forms of Islam like the Saudi-Wahhabism as well as the modern Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Shia’ism. The revolt against misogyny is a fundamental structural force that is challenging all forms of Islamism, and particularly so in Iran, as these countries become more culturally advanced.
Iran’s hardline Shiite sections accuse the US of orchestrating the protests. Do you see President Donald Trump’s administration’s role in it?
This is the Iranian regime’s old mantra whenever it is confronted with the anti-government citizens’ movements. The US intervention accusation, however, can’t be taken seriously.
Actually, in the past few years, the West has taken a compromising posture toward Iran. The US administration under former President Barack Obama is a good example of this approach. But President Trump acknowledges that a regime built on the permanent “Death to America” narrative can certainly not be a friend of the US. Trump’s common sense approach is yet to penetrate the complex power structures in the US (and elsewhere in the West), which are still dominated by a lack of understanding about Iran’s reality.
The US must develop the “tweeting policy” of its president into real policy and fully support the ongoing Iran protests, not only for the simplistic view that they are good for the US but also because their success is crucial for Iranians and the international community.
What role the US sanctions have played in aggravating the economic situation in Iran, hence indirectly causing the revolt?
We witnessed a de-escalation of US sanctions up to the beginning of 2017. The new US sanctions are yet to make an impact on the daily life of Iran’s citizens. President Obama even gave many millions of dollars to Iranian authorities that used it to export terrorism in the region rather than spending them for the welfare of the Iranian people.
What options does President Hassan Rouhani have to control the situation? Don’t you think that his relatively moderate government could be the biggest loser in the current situation?
President Rouhani has been dodging the Iranian people. I believe he has no domestic credibility and he has no leverage on the only instrument that may work in the present situation: crude repression. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards do not depend at all on Rouhani; they are controlled by the Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei.
Paulo Casaca is founder and executive director of the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF). He was a Portuguese member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. Casaca is an expert on Iranian politics and the author of several books and reports on economics and international politics.
The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.