Feature

Iran: Facebook friends with Israel?

The entire cabinet of President Hassan Rouhani has signed up for Facebook over the past month.

Want to be Facebook friends with Iranian leaders? Now you can, said Saeed Kamali Dehghan in The Guardian (U.K.). The entire cabinet of President Hassan Rouhani has signed up for Facebook over the past month. In other countries, such activity is routine, but Facebook and Twitter were banned in Iran after the “Green Revolution” uprising in 2009, when opposition activists used social media to organize massive demonstrations against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now that Ahmadinejad is out, we may begin to see “a new era in the Iranian government’s engagement with its citizens.” At the very least, the Rouhani administration’s Web presence has “raised hopes of an easing of Internet-related regulations.”

“Iran’s diplomatic policy has changed,” said Ali Vadaye in Mardom Salari (Iran). When the social media platforms were banned in 2009, “there were discussions that Western forces were using them” to foment unrest. Now Iranian leaders seem to be trying to reintroduce social media—but on their terms. They’re trying to show that Facebook and Twitter can “provide an opportunity for progress in the social sphere rather than posing the threat of sparking a revolution.” That’s why it’s no accident that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter to reach out to Israel with a New Year’s message.

It was a shocking outreach, said Barak Ravid in Ha’aretz (Israel). Zarif’s “Happy Rosh Hashanah” tweet set off a truly groundbreaking diplomatic exchange. Christine Pelosi, the activist daughter of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, responded, “The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.” Zarif shot back, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” The implication was that the only Holocaust denier was Ahmadinejad, and now that Rouhani has replaced him, everything is hunky-dory. That’s disingenuous, of course: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “has made similar statements on the Holocaust countless times,” calling it a “myth,” and Zarif himself has been evasive on the subject.

Still, it does look like the regime is walking back the belligerent anti-Israeli rhetoric of the Ahmadinejad era, said Doug Saunders in The Globe and Mail (Canada). Ahmadinejad tried to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “as a populist distraction” from the hobbled Iranian economy. It didn’t work. As ethnic Persians, Iranians “tend to look disdainfully upon Arabs and thus have limited interest in the Palestinian cause.” Voters—who, after all, elected Rouhani—have told interviewers they see funding anti-Israeli causes and groups as a waste of their money. “So, while it’s unlikely that Iran’s new government will recognize Israel,” it’s likely to strike a more conciliatory tone.

But Zarif may have tweeted out of turn, said Hossein Shariatmadari in Kayhan (Iran). Ahmadinejad “demolished the false legitimacy of the Zionist regime, and for this he should be admired and appreciated,” not criticized before the whole world. “We can assume” that Zarif will think hard before he tweets again.

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