Iran’s revolution of freedom

Germany should increase its support for Iranian protesters by pushing the EU to list the IRGC as a terrorist organisation

People take part in a protest against the Iranian regime in Cologne, 04.02.2023
Image by picture alliance / Panama Pictures | Christoph Hardt

A revolution is under way in Iran. A revolution started by women who have managed to win over almost the entire nation to their cause. They fight fearlessly for freedom and against the terror of the Islamic regime, which has oppressed the largely secular population for 44 years now. Freedom or terror – this is what the Iranian revolution is about.

The regime has recognised the gravity of the situation and has taken up the fight for its own political survival. In the process, it has committed acts of extreme brutality. Imprisonment, torture, rape, and murder are the order of the day. By spreading fear and terror, the regime is trying to suppress the protests. But the Iranians have overcome their fear. They know that their protest and the attention it generates around the world is their best defence against the regime’s violence. So, even as regime brutality has reduced the number of large-scale protests in many regions, demonstrations continue in some provinces such as Baluchistan where people take to the streets every Friday. More broadly, the revolution persists in new, oftentimes very creative forms of resistance.

The people of Iran are aware that only they can overthrow the regime. But with support from other nations including tough sanctions and isolation of the regime, the revolution can make faster progress. So, Iranians rightly expect Europe and Germany to do more than the bare minimum when they themselves are putting their lives in danger.

That reasonable expectation leads me to the crucial question: have we in Germany and Europe really understood what is at stake in Iran? Does the German coalition government realise that a successful revolution would be a world-shaking event in the most positive sense imaginable? The Iranian protesters’ efforts could free millions of people from oppression and allow them to lead self-determined lives for the first time in many generations. But that’s not all: the consequences would go far beyond Iran. A successful revolution would be a beacon of hope for those who continue to live in fear and would demonstrate that democratic change is possible. The dynamics of the entire region would change for the better and the prospects for negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran would revive. 

German foreign policy could be part of this development by taking the side of the Iranian people with clarity and determination. But the German government has largely remained silent. It took the foreign minister days to comment on the killing of Jina Mahsa Amini. Since then, the foreign ministry has initiated a resolution condemning Iran in the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is all right and good, but as of now has had little concrete impact. What really matters is attention from the international community and tough sanctions against the regime. It’s not enough to offer condolences every other week after yet another execution or to point the finger at others who are said to be blocking the effort to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation within the European Union. Germany has weight in the EU and can achieve a lot through active commitment. But instead of fighting for the EU to list the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, the German foreign ministry has made the listing more difficult by issuing incorrect statements on the legal conditions for such a measure.

During parliamentary question time in November, I asked the minister of state in the foreign ministry, Katja Keul, whether the government was committed to listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation in the EU. One could easily have answered this question with a simple yes. Instead, Keul presented an inaccurate description of the legal technicalities of the issue, according to which investigations or a conviction of the IRGC for acts of terrorism in the EU would be necessary. In 2017, the European Court of Justice clarified that investigations and convictions from non-EU states can also be used to justify a terror listing in the EU. When asked, the foreign ministry confirmed this position. So, if it wants a terror listing of the IRGC, as it claims, then why is it deliberately and repeatedly causing confusion by citing prerequisites that do not exist in law?

By failing to put the IRGC on the terror list in January, the EU demonstrated its unwillingness to fundamentally change its approach toward the regime

Putting the IRGC on the EU’s terror list is one of the main demands by the people in Iran and the diaspora towards the EU. The IRGC is the regime’s centre of power. It controls almost everything in Iran. Putting it on the EU’s terror list would therefore assign responsibility for the terror conducted in Iran and around the globe to the regime and would help block financial flows to a criminal organisation. But the EU has so far shied away from taking this step.

Such a listing is perceived as a red line in Tehran and would imply a clear break with the regime. As a consequence, reviving the Iranian nuclear deal and continuing negotiations on limiting Iranian nuclear development would become close to impossible. But it is an illusion to assume that the nuclear deal still has a future while the current Iranian regime remains in place. The regime clearly rejected the last proposal by the United States in September 2022 and there is no reason to believe that Tehran has changed its mind on this. But in order to leave the door open to a nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, the EU has opted for a path of sanctioning a small number of individuals who are generally not very important to the regime. The entire leadership has so far remained unsanctioned. These sanctions do not substantially hurt or antagonise the regime. By failing to put the IRGC on the terror list during the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in January, the EU demonstrated its unwillingness to fundamentally change its approach toward the regime. It gifted the mullahs a propaganda coup and caused serious disappointment amongst the protesters. What the EU is so far doing in support of the brave women and men in Iran is not enough! It is the absolute face-saving minimum. The bitter truth is, despite all the verbal assurances, that the EU is waiting to see how the revolution will play out and only then will it dare to pick sides.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Co-chair of ECFR’s Council
Member of the Bundestag

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