With Iran's presidential elections in June, and the meddling efforts of the powerful Guardian Council to control its outcome, there are signs of fracture even among elites in the mullahcracy. It is an opportunity not to be missed. Given the role that social media and electronic communications played in the overthrow of tyrants during the Arab spring, Canada and the United States are wise to impose sanctions on Iran – with significant exemptions.
First, on Wednesday, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced strict new sanctions that basically eliminate any trade between Canada and Iran with the notable exception of "equipment, services and software that facilitate secure and widespread communications via information technologies." Then on Thursday, the Obama administration similarly relaxed sanctions on Iran to allow American companies to sell technology used for personal communications.
Iran's rulers are sophisticated enough to understand the measures for what they are, a way to arm the opposition in Iran with the ability to communicate with each other. The Canadian government set out the case: "Canada's new sanctions include exemptions for technologies that protect Iranians online and help them break through the regime's curtain of propaganda." The timing, a a few weeks before the presidential election, is no coincidence.
Ordinary Iranians, who have been paying a heavy price for sanctions aimed at the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, will welcome these measures.
"While we have lost faith in the regressive, clerical military dictatorship of the Ayatollah, we have not lost faith in the people of Iran," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said on Wednesday.
Canada has a sophisticated read on the situation in Iran. Other democracies – not only the U.S. – should follow its example.