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The protests that shook Iran over the past week, and which will reverberate for months, have left many in the West trying to understand the unrest and how best to address it. That includes Canada.

Iran's brutal Revolutionary Guard declared the end of the "sedition" on Thursday, and there were news reports that the protests, which took place in the country's more conservative cities and towns, appeared to be on the wane.

At least 21 protesters have died so far, and the government has arrested hundreds more. Some arrestees could face the death penalty, on manufactured charges of blasphemy and treason, for the crime of speaking their mind.

In all of this, not a single Western country has offered any concrete support to the protesters, other than the usual bromides about the much-abused human right to express oneself freely in a peaceful manner.

Foreign governments have preferred to finesse a response suited to a country that has been the victim of egregious foreign interference in the past – the CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953 that installed the Shah in power, which in turn led to the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the theocratic dictatorship that clings to power today.

The situation is further complicated by the 2015 deal that lifted international economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, and by Iran's controversial support for the unloved Syrian government. The West's relationship with Iran is as fragile as it has ever been.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who should never handle fragile objects, tweeted his approval of the protesters and promised them "great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" No one knows what that means, but what is clear is that Iranians who fear persecution for their part in the demonstrations can't seek refuge the U.S., thanks to Mr. Trump's travel bans targeting Muslim countries.

Canada has been just as unhelpful. The Trudeau government is eager to restore diplomatic relations with Iran that were cut by the previous Conservative government, a fact that appears to have coloured its response.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada will continue to seek to engage with the Iranian government, even as he lauded the bravery of Iranians who are calling for the end of the same government.

Halfhearted responses like these are the result of over-thinking the situation. The protests are not hard to understand. Iran's unrest is the inevitable result of rising prices, shameless corruption and high youth unemployment – a toxic mix aggravated by an entitled ruling class that prioritizes religious fundamentalism over all other concerns.

According to The New York Times, the protests began after details of the national budget were leaked in December. Iranians, who have already suffered through economic hard times for years, learned that the government planned to impose new austerity measures, such as a cut to subsidies for citizens and higher gas prices, while spending billions on hard-line religious institutions and on military adventures in other countries.

All the money flowing into the country thanks to the end of sanctions is falling into the pockets of a ruling class whose more secular members have a bad habit of sharing images of their luxury cars and foreign holidays on social media.

There are few people who wouldn't protest under the same conditions. Iran has become a country whose leadership can't put bread on the table, while enjoying the lifestyle of Louis XVI.

Canada and other countries are stuck for now with having to engage with an autocratic Iranian government that will never reform itself, at least not without being forced into it.

At the same time, Ottawa and others have to acknowledge that there is a growing feeling among ordinary Iranians that they will only prosper under a more democratic government; that, in effect, Iran needs another revolution.

Change of that magnitude has to come from inside the country. But Canada should show support for its own democratic ideals by at least threatening to use its newly minted Magnitsky-style law to impose sanctions on Iranian actors who violate the human rights of the protesters.

As for restoring diplomatic ties with Iran, that's never a bad idea in itself. But if Ottawa pursues that goal, it must accept that it will be lending authority to a government that many Iranians no longer trust.

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