Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government could not have possibly expected, or wished for, a better American government to work with than the Obama administration. The Iranians could not have imagined that an American administration could so easily buy their argument and image of a “moderate” government, allowing Iranian leaders to pursue their own Islamist and meddling foreign policies.
The Obama administration is attempting to persuade Congress, the international community, and its Western and European allies, that Rouhani’s government is moderate and different than Iranian governments of the past. While the American government has sent strong signals to the international community and multinational corporations that the Iranian government is moderate, the Islamic Republic of Iran is gleefully rebuilding its crippled economy. The Obama administration is also trying to prevent Congress from enacting further sanctions on Iran. As the Obama administration is attempting to halt further pressure on Iran, and is considering loosening and easing current economic sanctions (it is worth noting that it has already loosened some non-economic sanctions), Iran is getting back on the track.
First of all, Iran’s major economic lifeline, its oil industry, has rapidly begun to recover. According to International Energy Agency (IEA) reports, in September, Iran has already increased its oil exports by 180,000 barrels per day as compared to the previous year, equivalent to a 26 percent increase.
An adviser to Iran’s oil minister, Mehdi Hosseini, was quoted in the Financial Times saying that the Iranian government is developing a “win-win” form of contract, which could benefit leading Western and Eastern companies alike. The Iranian government is trying, according to Hosseini, to also change the current system of “buyback” contracts, which currently do not permit foreign companies to book reserves or take equity stakes in Iranian oil, gas, or other projects. This is can be viewed as a considerable shift in Iran’s oil industry, which has previously been exposed to little foreign investment in its oil and gas fields due to the international sanctions and pressure.
As the theocratic and Islamist government of the Ayatollahs and clerics are again observing the flow of wealth and cash into their government, thanks to the Obama administration loosening its policies on Tehran, the ruling Islamists in Iran are feeling more confident in their abilities to ratchet up their crackdown on minorities, oppositional groups, along with political and human rights activists.
Despite Rouhani’s moderate image and American outreach to Iran, the religious persecution of minorities—particularly Christians and Sunni Muslims— is increasing and continuing. According to a Christian advocacy group and international news outlets, just this week a court in Iran has sentenced four Christian men to 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion ceremony. This sentencing is part of the government crackdown on so-called “house churches.” House churches are unofficial locations where Christians meet in Iran in order to practice their faith while trying to not be recognized, detected, and persecuted. Several other political and human rights activists have also been sentenced to jail in the last few weeks.
According to a new UN report made in October by Ahmed Shaheed, a UN special reporter on human rights in Iran, such persecution of Christians is common in the country despite new President Rouhani's pledge to be a moderate. “At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013," Shaheed reported, adding, "In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.”
Additionally, the UN report noted that Iran’s “Authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing,” and that “More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad.” Furthermore, this past Saturday, Iranian authorities executed 16 Sunni insurgents. These executions were reportedly conducted as retaliation for an attack carried out a day earlier, by other groups.
Recently, Iran’s press watchdog has imposed a ban on a major reformist newspaper Bahar, because it published an article viewed as raising questions about the beliefs of Shi’ite Islam. The Bahar newspaper published an op-ed article in which the author casted doubts on whether the Prophet Muhammad had appointed a successor (Ali). The newspaper was banned because this statement contradicts the beliefs of Shia Muslims, Iran’s ruling clerics and Ayatollahs.
As the Islamist state of Iran is becoming more confident about its economy and its reopening of oil contracts, it is also further finding itself more capable of funding its proxies in the region including Hamas and Hezbollah. Meaning that Iran is increasing its geopolitical and foreign policy influence across the region. These are some of the recent highlights and consequences of the Obama administration’s softening policies towards Iran. When foreign policies are not calculated and informed meticulously, the repercussions will be severe, not only for one nation but for security and peace regionally and internationally. As the United States is loosening its pressure on Iran and urging other countries to do the same, more oil companies are investing in Iran, allowing Tehran to feel more confident in their persecution of minorities and political activists, along with their funding of proxies and meddling in the affairs of other countries.
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