Opinion

Foreign leaders might want to dial back the Iran protest schadenfreude

It's rather tone-deaf for Trump and Netanyahu, in particular, to cheerlead for these protests against poverty, corruption, religious authoritarianism and billions spent on foreign wars, while ignoring the same criticisms of their own governance at home.

They seem to ignore the fact that their critics at home are echoing some of the same concerns

It's rather tone-deaf for Trump and Netanyahu, in particular, to cheerlead for these protests against poverty, corruption, religious authoritarianism and billions spent on foreign wars, while ignoring the same criticisms of their own governance at home. (EPA-EFE)

Current unrest in Iran seems to have provided foreign leaders with prime schadenfreude tweeting opportunities. But U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might want to dial back their exuberant support for Iranians who have taken to the streets over the past week.

To begin with, their encouragement by social media provides the embattled Iranian regime with an excuse to blame the protests on foreign meddling (and with the historical intervention of the CIA and MI6, it wouldn't be totally far-fetched). But beyond that, it's rather tone-deaf for the leaders of these countries to cheerlead for these protests against poverty, corruption, religious authoritarianism and billions spent on foreign wars (in the case of the U.S.), while ignoring the same criticisms of their own governance at home.

As Netanyahu wishes "brave Iranians" success as they take to the streets, for example, it's hard not to think of the huge protests that swept Tel Aviv last month against his own alleged corruption, which involve Netanyahu and his wife reportedly receiving expensive gifts from wealthy business people and attempting to influence media coverage. Critics calling for his resignation are particularly outraged over these scandals in light of Israel's rising cost of living — one of the highest in the OECD — that led to wide-ranging protests in 2011 and 2012, as well as an ongoing frustration over the gap between the rich and poor.

And as Netanyahu scolds the Iranian regime from his supposed moral higher ground, images of 16-year-old anti-occupation protester Ahed Tamimi being detained by Israeli soldiers spring to mind, as well as the growing discontent among secular Israelis with the amount of political power and economic resources given to the nation's religious right.

Then there's Trump. His triumphalist tweets about the evils of the Iranian regime and support for protesters fall flat when we consider some of the highlights of his presidency so far.

Six months after Charlottesville, when the American president all but explicitly equated neo-Nazi violence with anti-racism resistance, he might want to tread more carefully when it comes to his condemnation of the Iranian regime's aggressive stance against protestors. Ditto for his excoriation of corruption, given the ongoing FBI investigation into his administration's involvement with Russian meddling in the U.S. election, as well as his own apparent attempts to obstruct justice.

He might also do well to note that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power last summer promising more political freedom and to fix Iran's moribund economy — familiar slogans from Trump's own campaign. Meanwhile, Trump has helped cement his own nation's obscene gap between rich and poor with his recent tax reform package, which will aid his billionaire pals.

And as Iranian protesters call for an end to costly foreign wars, has Trump forgotten his own $15 billion increase of his nation's defence budget under the banner of "war funding" last May, helping to fund ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria?

In fact, Trump and Rouhani may have more in common than one might imagine. With most millennials in disapproval of Trump and the majority of Iranian protesters under 25, both leaders seem to be in the midst of a type of generational warfare.

'My hope is that President Rouhani will use these protests to push for internal reforms,' says the Atlantic Council's Director of the Future of Iran Initiative Barbara Slavin. 6:52

To be clear, this is not to say the conditions in Trump's America are on par with those in Iran in terms of human rights abuses and corruption. But it does come off as a bit rich for the commander-in-chief to champion the protesters in Iran while his critics at home are echoing some of the same (albeit, less extreme) concerns. And his voice doesn't exactly come with much credibility on the ground in Iran, considering his open hostility toward the country through his travel ban and push for increased sanctions.

The Iranian spring may well prove as elusive as the Arab one, but it's certainly no springtime for Trump. His calls for regime change may come to haunt him, and the American people – struggling to be heard by their indifferent leaders  — may find strange kinship with their Iranian (and Israeli) brethren.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ. 

About the Author

Hadani Ditmars

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq. A former editor at New Internationalist and past contributor to CBC’s Dispatches, she has been reporting from the Middle East for over two decades. Her next book, Between Two Rivers, is a political travelogue of Iraqi heritage sites.

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