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Published on February 15th, 2011 | by Ali Gharib

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State Spox on Iran demos, Farsi Twitter

Yesterday, State Department Spokesperson P.J. Crowley made a few comments about Iran in his daily press briefing. The Assistant Secretary confirmed that, as LobeLog reported yesterday, State has commenced tweeting in Farsi.

Full Iran-related sections of both his prepared statement and the Q & A are below, but a few things are worth pulling out.

On the Twitter front, Crowley said State tweets in Farsi and Arabic. While some U.S. embassies employ Twitter as well, he said, the @USAdarFarsi account “is a little more targeted.”

An unnamed reporter then asked a pointed question:

QUESTION: Are you trying to create a revolution then in Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – what has guided us throughout the last three months and guides us in terms of how we focus on Iran is the core principles – the Secretary mentioned them again today – of restraint from violence, respect for universal rights, and political and social reform. There is a – it is hypocrisy that Iran says one thing in the context of Egypt but refuses to put its own words into action in its own country.

QUESTION: How about other countries – Bahrain, Yemen, or Algeria, or Jordan? Why you are not talking about those countries and you are condemning what is happening in Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, in the other countries there is greater respect for the rights of the citizens….

I’m not sure that last bit is right. Egypt’s death toll during its current crisis, for example, was estimated by HRW to be about 300. But look at State’s own human rights report for Iran, which is about the same size as Egypt, released in March 2010:

The official death count was 37, but opposition groups reported approximately 70 individuals died, and human rights organizations suggested as many as 200.

Of course, Bahrain and Jordan are key U.S. allies currently embroiled in unrest. Jordan reacted with some reforms, and Bahrain appears to be cracking down.

Phil Weiss called this “singling out Iran” — turning a favorite defense of the pro-Israel lobby on its head — and Issadr El Amrani, on his excellent Arabist blog, wrote:

It’s fine for the US to criticize Iran, but the other countries — in all of which the US has consequent military, intelligence and/or economic interests — surely deserve a mention too. What just happened in Egypt should have taught Washington a lesson about client-patron relationships in a dysfunctional region, but obviously some are slow on the uptake.

Crowley’s comments, however, are remarkably similar to the statements made by State during the Egypt unrest. In addition to the exhortations for Iranian authorities to refrain from violence, there are pleas — commonplace these days — for allowing the flow of information through internet networking tools and mobile phone service.

But the Iranian reactions and condemnations just seem to come a little faster, with the first pleas from the U.S. coming two days before the most recent round of protests themselves (as if Egyptian rulers were not themselves already involved in sometimes violent political suppression and repression).

The obvious juxtaposition is that the protesters in Egypt were against a U.S.-backed dictator; in Iran, the street protesters are in the streets in opposition to the order atop the Islamic Republic, a decades-long enemy of the U.S.

The full sections of Crowley’s briefing that addressed Iran:

[Prepared text:]

We obviously are watching the situation in Iran very closely and the government’s response to peaceful protests. We are deeply concerned about reports that one person has been killed and two wounded in clashes with security forces. Those security forces are arresting, beating, and using tear gas against protestors, as well as blocking them from using public transportation, cell phones, and other means of communication. Iran reportedly continues to jam news coverage in the country. Both major opposition leaders remain under house arrest, and this is in conjunction with a wave of other arrests of opposition figures, including women’s rights advocates, leading up to the protests.

We condemn in the strongest terms any use of violence against people peacefully assembling and expressing their views – expressing their desire for freedom and reform, and call on Iran to refrain from violence. And as the Secretary said in her remarks on the Hill – I believe she used the term hypocrisy – it’s well earned – in the contrast between the words that Iran used relative to the protests in Egypt, but its ongoing crackdown of its own people and their universal right to demonstrate.

[From the Q and A:]

QUESTION: The State Department sent – started sending direct messages to Iranians in Farsi yesterday. Can you talk about that, and is this a new social media initiative from the State Department?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would put it in a broader context. And actually, if you’re interested, we’ll bring Judith McHale down to explain it in greater detail. As you’ve seen, we are making more significant use of social media. It’s a key element of our plan to – and our strategy to engage people-to-people around the world. As the Secretary has made clear, we do engage governments, but we also want to engage people directly. And as we use social media, we’re also employing – using languages in key parts of the world. So last week we began Tweeting in Arabic, and this week we begin Tweeting in Farsi.

QUESTION: Are these the only two foreign languages?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, not necessarily. I think also embassies around the world have their own Twitter accounts. So I won’t – we do employ a number of languages. But obviously, this is a little more targeted.

QUESTION: So you’re trying to create —

QUESTION: There’s your own language.

MR. CROWLEY: My own language.

QUESTION: Are you trying to create a revolution then in Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, that – what has guided us throughout the last three months and guides us in terms of how we focus on Iran is the core principles – the Secretary mentioned them again today – of restraint from violence, respect for universal rights, and political and social reform. There is a – it is hypocrisy that Iran says one thing in the context of Egypt but refuses to put its own words into action in its own country.

QUESTION: How about other countries – Bahrain, Yemen, or Algeria, or Jordan? Why you are not talking about those countries and you are condemning what is happening in Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, in the other countries there is greater respect for the rights of the citizens. I mean, we are watching developments in other countries, including Yemen, including Algeria, including Bahrain. And our advice is the same. As the Secretary made clear in her Doha speech, there’s a significant need for political, social, and economic reform across the region, and we encourage governments to respect their citizen’s right to protest peacefully, respect their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and hope that there will be an ongoing engagement, a dialogue between people in governments, and they can work together on the necessary forms.

Now, those reforms will not be identical. They’ll be different country by country. But clearly, the people in the region, emboldened by what’s happened in Tunisia and Egypt and well connected through social media, are gathering together, standing up, and demanding more of their governments.

QUESTION: Can I have just two follow-ups on that? One, are you, in sending these Twitter messages to Iranians, are you also sending a message to the Government of Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we always give Iran our best advice. (Laughter.) They seldom follow it.

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One Response to State Spox on Iran demos, Farsi Twitter

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    Obviously, the U.S. government is going to treat Iran a bit differently — Iran is not our friend. States are pragmatic and not moral entities, at least most of the time.


About the Author

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Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



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