This weekend and early next week Hassan Rouhani will be making his first visit to Europe as the president of Iran. The first time for anything is special and this has the potential to really be a historical visit. Rouhani is scheduled to meet with the leaders of France and Italy, and they can make this a new chapter for relations between Iran and Europe, and to some extent the West as a whole.
But this status is not guaranteed simply by the fact that Rouhani is the first Iranian president to visit Europe in a decade. Neither will the historical impact of the visit be determined by the trade agreements that he will try to sign, or the types of concessions he will seek from his European counterparts.
The more important aspects of this moment in history are firmly in the hands of the European leaders who will receive Rouhani.
The Iranian president is now the representative to Europe for a regime that has the highest per capita rate of executions in the world. The victims include political dissidents, in particular the activists of the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), as well as ethnic minorities and other political prisoners. According to various reports there have been more than 2,000 executions during Rouhani’s two years in office – more than in any two-year period in the past quarter century. It is triple the rate of what was overseen by Rouhani’s predecessor.
The July 14 nuclear agreement was undoubtedly a watershed moment. Ever since, Tehran has tried to compensate for its partial retreat by becoming more aggressive and belligerent. Violations of human rights have increased in every respect, targeting all Iranians, from human rights defenders to women, youths and teachers; from Christians, Baha’i’s and Sunnis to Arab, Baluchi and Kurdish minorities.
Imprisonment and severe punishment of young bloggers, poets, cartoonists, journalists and filmmakers have been constantly on the rise. Several Iranian- Americans including Pastor Saeed Abedini are languishing in Iranian prisons on bogus charges.
Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the regime for executing two persons who had been minors at the time of their arrests and trials. He called on Tehran to stop such barbaric violations.
And in case all of these domestic abuses are not bad enough on their own, Iran routinely makes efforts to export its human rights violations abroad, as well. On October 29, the regime’s agents in Iraq attacked the local MEK encampment with 80 missiles, killing 24 of its defenseless residents.
Rouhani and his advocates in the West might try to dodge responsibility and blame all this on other bad actors in the Iranian regime, but as Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi put it recently, “Tehran has been masterfully playing this game of good cop-bad cop for a long time.” When one looks closely, it’s impossible to deny that the good cop and bad cop are one in the same.
The bitter reality is that despite their differences, the ayatollahs have a common viewpoint on executions and repression. Such tactics preserve their regime, and Rouhani has been a key regime insider since its inception. And wasn’t Rouhani who clearly pronounced that these executions “are either based on Divine Law or on some legislation adopted by the parliament… and we only carry them out.”Rouhani has remained in lockstep with the rest of the regime on the exportation of the Islamic Revolution. During Rouhani’s tenure, the ayatollahs have expanded their warmongering and carnage in Syria and elsewhere. Even when they suffered a major defeat, they doubled down by maneuvering Moscow to back them.
Rouhani has acknowledged that the regime’s manufacture of weapons has increased five-fold during under presidency. The budget for security and military affairs has increased considerably. Add Tehran’s nefarious activities in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, and Bahrain and you have a more comprehensive picture of the regime’s ongoing behavior.
That picture also serves to explain why human rights organizations and Iranian dissidents have organized several demonstrations to put the spotlight on Rouhani’s record after he arrives in Europe. The demonstration that is projected to be largest is scheduled to take place in Paris on November 16 to coincide with first day of Rouhani’s visit to the “city of lights.”
The demonstrations will reiterate the facts showing that Rouhani is anything but a source of change and “moderation.”
If Europe insists on embracing the ayatollahs’ fanciful notions of moderation, or if it ignores the lack of actual moderation in favor of some cynical notion of realpolitik, the only party that benefits will be Tehran. And the Iranian regime will not only go on contributing to the misery of the Iranian people, but it will further exacerbate the chaos and turmoil in the broader region.
And if one rewards bad behavior, all he gets back is more bad behavior.
Paris and Rome should remove the welcome mat for Hassan Rouhani and refuse to roll it out again until he no longer represents a regime that sponsors terrorism and ruthlessly suppresses its population.
Europe has a choice to make. It can continue to look the other way on Iran’s misbehavior at home and abroad, hoping for lucrative trade deals that outweigh any betrayal of the European values of liberty and democracy; or it can use Rouhani’s visit as an opportunity to call attention to the ongoing spate of human rights abuses throughout Iran, and the destructive influence that Iran has been pushing in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
President Hollande and Prime Minister Renzi should be loud and clear in public: Relations with the Iranian regime are and will remain contingent upon the end of executions and other human rights violations.
They can still make the forthcoming trip a historical one by holding Rouhani to account and proving that they are his opposite: Representatives of the true European values that every decent human being can be proud of.