“Hello world, we’re tweeting from Iran without being blocked!”
Just when they were about to celebrate the unblocking of social networking websites Facebook and Twitter after a four year ban, the Iranians were disappointed as this electronic freedom soon came to an end and Iran blocked the services once again.
Iran then regained its repressive status in the list of countries who consider the internet their enemy.
But what happened during the few hours of “freedom” when Iranians celebrated a “victory” that they attributed to their new President Hassan Rowhani? After all, it was during his presidential campaign that there were promises to end internet restrictions in Iran.
A deliberate experiment?
Was the sudden unblocking of the websites a result of a technical glitch as the official announcement claimed? Or was it a deliberate experiment carried out by the regime to check the public opinion's reaction and to check what the Iranians will say if they restore their electronic freedom? Or was it an indication of Rowhani's failure to ease internet restrictions?
It also seems that this is a game mastered by the regime which has presented Iran’s public with what officials call “halal” internet.Diana Moukalled
At the moment, there is a new president in Iran attempting to present his character as one more open than that of his predecessor. He has repeatedly expressed his desire to ease internet restrictions. This is reflected by Iranian foreign affairs minister Mohamed Jawad Zarif who has an active presence on Twitter and Facebook. Truth is, the Iranian regime is present on the social networking websites it bans the people from using.
Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei publicizes his stances, fatwas (religious edicts) and praises from his supporters through these websites. The new regime figures are displaying bold activity in this field.
In general, Iranians are active on the internet and they've found means to access the virtual world despite the fact that some websites are blocked.
The regime knows that millions of Iranians manage to find a way around internet restrictions and become active via the internet, but from time to time it tests the allowed dosage of freedoms; this is what happened last week.
It seems that the regime's move to unblock the social networking websites for hours aimed to test its ability to control these websites and to test the Iranians' response towards this move. It also seems that this is a game mastered by the regime which has presented Iran’s public with what officials call “halal” internet. The Iranians display the ability to exploit the modern communications network. The regime is responding with “tests.” Its experts currently reside in Damascus to aid the Syrian regime in its battle against its own people. In time, these experts will return with this experience to Tehran.
It's a race between the regime's capability to resume suppressing its people and the Iranians' capability to create a new Arab Spring similar to the one they aspired to launch in 2009. As we wait this moment, Supreme Guide Khamenei will continue to tweet to the world and to enjoy receiving his supporters' compliments.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 23, 2013.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled