U.S. encourages women-driven protests in Iran


HR King
May 29, 2001
The Daily 202 pointed out 10 days ago how President Biden has gone farther, faster in supporting protests in Iran than Barack Obama did in 2009. Since then, the administration has gone farther — and promises even more to help demonstrators and punish the regime.

So far, things seem to be moving on three fronts:
  • Rhetorical encouragement for Iranians who took to the streets after the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in custody of the so-called Morality Police. The authorities grabbed her for supposedly covering her hair improperly.
  • Sanctions on officials and entities seen as repressing the demonstrations.
  • Support for steps to circumvent the Islamic Republic’s efforts to smother access to the Internet and other communications that might help organize the protests or spread the activist cause.
In an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell this week, CIA Director William Burns promised support for the free flow of information inside Iran, while sidestepping questions on whether the U.S. government would help actually deploy the technical means to skirt an Internet blackout.

“The U.S. government has made very clear our support for the free flow of information and freedom of the Internet,” he said. Pressed on whether the U.S. would help deploy Starlink terminals to help Iranians get back on the web, Burns repeatedly demurred.

“All I can say is, you know, we are going to continue to be strongly supportive as a government in the free flow of information,” Burns said. (Any CIA action inside Iran would be fraught because the agency once helped overthrow an Iranian government.)

Asked whether the protests, which have swept across Iran, might be the start of a revolution, Burns did not answer directly. But he didn’t dispute the premise, either.
I don’t think they are isolated protests. And you know what is striking — at least to me and our analysts here — is the sweep of those protests right now,” he told CBS, adding that Iranians were “fed up in a lot of ways” with their government.

“They’re willing to take the risk of getting out and demonstrating because they’re fed up with economic decay, with corruption, with the social restrictions, especially, that Iranian women face, and with political repression as well,” the CIA director said.

Focus on dress codes​

Separately, the White House and the State Department have gone beyond the usual broad lip service to international principles of human rights to specifically embrace the cause that triggered the unrest: flouting repressive dress codes for women.

Women should be able to wear what they want, free from violence or harassment,” Biden press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday. “Iran must end its use of violence against its own citizens simply for exercising their fundamental freedoms, their fundamental rights.”

(Interestingly, Jean-Pierre played down the significance of the CIA director making such sweeping remarks about Iran, noting that the president, his national security adviser and other top officials have also spoken out.)
That wasn’t the first time over the past two weeks that the United States made such common cause with Iranian protesters — particularly the women who have burned the traditional hijab headscarf and cut their hair in public to denounce Amini’s death.

While Biden did not do so in his most recent statement, late Monday, the State Department (and Jean-Pierre) have done so.
On Sept. 28, State Department spokesman Ned Price described Amini as “a young woman who was arrested for exercising what should have been a universal right to freedom of expression, in this case specifically the right to determine for herself her appearance, what she chose to wear.

A day earlier, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “Mahsa should be alive today. The only reason she’s not is because a brutal regime took her life and took her life because of decisions she should be making about what she would wear or not wear.

“Women in Iran have the right to wear what they want; they have the right to be free from violence; they have the right to be free from harassment,” he added.
None of this is astonishing or deserves the three-siren treatment on social media.
But given that the protests show no signs of fading away — quite the opposite — and given that (as we pointed out in that Sept. 23 column) the protests over the headscarf rules also build on a reservoir of anger at political repression and a terrible economy, with potentially calamitous results for the regime, it all deserves our unveiled attention.