July 14, 2016 will mark the one-year anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), commonly known as the Iran Deal. A decisive moment in Iran’s political timeline and a key diplomatic achievement by the Obama administration, it seemed to many to have opened the possibility of creating a new Iran, better-integrated into the global economy and receptive to new ideas that could push forward reforms.
While the deal was indeed an historic moment for Iran, the country’s use of arbitrary detention, torture, execution and corporal punishment to keep a firm grip on power has not changed. In addition to well-publicized and controversial detainments of teachers and union leaders, Iran still counts more per-capita executions than any other country (China still leads in total numbers, but has fewer executions per capita).
The country also finds itself embroiled in multiple regional disputes. Its support of the state forces of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, to which it annually funnels billions of dollars, has prolonged the Syrian Civil War and strained relations with those who would like to see a quick end to the conflict. Its relationship with Saudi Arabia is also at a particularly low point due to conflicting geopolitical visions, Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shia cleric, and Iran’s non-participation in this year’s Doha oil meetings. It was found out earlier this year that Iran was backing Houthi military forces in Yemen against the U.N.-established government there, and Iran also has poor relations with Lebanon and Israel, creating a slew of diplomatic problems for Iran’s government.
Due to these and other indications that Iran is unlikely to change its practices, there is renewed vigor and support for replacing Iran’s theocratic government, which is dominated by hardline parties, with a democratic one. This makes this year’s National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) meeting, held in Paris on July 9, all the more pertinent. The NCRI functions as a parliament-in-exile, assiduously prepared to act as a transition government in the event of a regime change until free elections can be held. The event is the largest of its kind, attracting over 100,000 people last year.
Many members of western governments are also realizing that the faith placed in free trade and diplomacy by the West may have been misplaced in Iran’s case. The lifting of nuclear sanctions and the reentry of Iran into global markets have done little to benefit the human rights or economic situation in Iran, where unemployment and repression have actually worsened since 2015.