It’s not strange that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that blocks necessary services like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. This is part of Tehran’s policy to block or disrupt satellite television channels and prevent citizens from accessing foreign media outlets.
All the Iranians can use out of available social media tools is the messaging app Telegram which was founded by two Russian brothers and that is headquartered in Germany. Forty million Iranians use its voice messaging feature while 20 million Iranians use its text messaging feature. There is high demand over this precious service which is the only available one there as the Iranians represent one fourth of the number of Telegram users across the world.
However the government killed their joy and blocked the app’s voice messaging feature under the pretext of protecting national security. Truth is, if blocked out of fear, it will influence the course of the upcoming elections – a path which has been engineered already.
National security concerns
Thousands of candidates have been filtered according to the democratic standards of Iranian clerics. In the end, only those which clerics approve of are allowed to run for the elections. This is not a secret system but it’s public one. In the end, if the supreme guide rejects someone, he will not be allowed to engage in the elections or win it.
What happened during the 2009 elections greatly embarrassed the political regime on the domestic and international level because those who deviated from the command’s path were figures that the regime’s leaders have accepted. The higher command had decided that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be the president.
The results were thus forged accordingly, angering Ahmadinejad’s rivals who were close to winning. The latter thus declared their rebellion and the famous Green Movement was launched. Many were killed, injured and detained as a result. Its memory haunts the Iranian authority which thinks that this massive popular movement against it would not have occurred, particularly in the capital, if it hadn’t been for Twitter and Facebook.
There is high demand over this precious service which is the only available one there as the Iranians represent one fourth of the number of Telegram users across the worldAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Back then, at Al-Arabiya television channel, after Tehran shut down our office and expelled our correspondent, we almost completely depended on videos, footage and information attained via these two services to cover Iranian developments. The result was amazing as the regime was confused after footage of protests, confrontations and consequences were broadcasted on international media outlets.
I sensed the Iranian regime’s fears and anticipated its next moves after I read a report about the influence of Telegram in Iran in the Los Angeles Times about a month ago. The report said security authorities have begun to warn users of sending political messages and forced all those who have a channel that has more than 5,000 subscribers to get a permit from the ministry of culture. Then it began to detain users who are active on this app.
A repeated charade
Iran has now shut down most of Telegram’s services hoping it can control the atmosphere of parliamentary and presidential elections which are mostly a repeated charade as results can be partially or completely forged even after filtering candidates in the first stages. What the regime cares about is controlling reactions in the street so that activity similar to the Green Movement’s does not happen again.
We do not expect surprises in these presidential elections because the candidates approved are similar to one another. Even former president Ahmadinejad – despite his value and history – was prevented from running for the elections by the supreme guide. Ahmadinejad stunned everyone when he registered to run for elections despite the supreme guide’s warning.
He made apologetic statements clarifying that he did not violate the supreme guide’s directions and vowing that he will withdraw after the first round. He added that he was only participating in the elections to support his friend, a presidential candidate, and help him attain popular and media attention.
This article is also available in Arabic
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.