Courageous Iranians have been taking to the streets for weeks: for freedom, for human rights and increasingly also against the Islamic Republic’s system of rule.

The protests have now reached numerous cities and universities, while the regime’s response has become increasingly violent. In Germany and Europe it is high time for real solidarity with the protesters that goes beyond mere rhetoric.

The recently passed EU sanctions against four Iranian institutions and eleven individuals, on the other hand, are largely symbolic and insufficient.

Simon Engelkes is a consultant in the Middle East and North Africa team at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. Previously, he worked as a project coordinator in the Southern Mediterranean Political Dialogue regional program based in Tunis. Simon Engelkes studied political science in Berlin and Beirut as well as terrorism research at King’s College London.

However, the entry bans to Europe that have been decided upon and the freezing of assets in the EU are ineffective, because the Basij militias and the “moral police”, mostly recruited from poorer classes, are not necessarily known for beach holidays on the Côte d’Azur and estates in Monaco – if their names are even known to the European authorities.

It took the EU foreign ministers four weeks to take a stance on the protests in Iran – and even now Europe is only reacting hesitantly.

Perhaps it was ultimately the increasing pressure from civil society and above all from the Iranian diaspora, on European streets and on social media, and the accusation of silent inaction that forced the heads of government to act.

But the hesitation against the background of human rights violations in Iran leaves a stale aftertaste. Namely, that in the European capitals there may also have been hopes that the situation in the country would calm down again quickly.

The muted outcry in this country is also an expression of a lack of empathy in Germany for the Iranians. We all think we know what is happening in Iran right now, based only on the few verified photos and videos on social media.

What we do know, however, is that the regime’s repression is increasing and that this is not the first time that nationwide protests – as before in 2009 with the so-called Green Movement or in 2017/18 – have been brutally crushed.

Many students are among those arrested. “They turned Tehran into a prison and Evin prison into a university,” students chanted in a recent video on social media, before an unexplained fire broke out right there over the weekend.

This time, however, what is happening in Tehran and other cities in Iran is being flanked with sluggish attention in Europe, particularly in politics. And the EU has not become more creative in its instruments more than forty years after the founding of the Islamic Republic.

In Germany and Europe, we must therefore put up with the question of why we are so uninterested in the local situation – and, if the answer to this is a lack of empathy, what conclusions this has for us.

The background to the reluctance of the West also seems to be the sluggish negotiations on the nuclear deal with Iran. Because Europe is in a quandary. On the one hand, a nuclear-armed Iran wants to be prevented, which would make a regional arms race likely and military intervention by Israel or the USA possible.

On the other hand, this regime lacks the basis for a credible agreement. A regime that wants to educate its own population with a baton cannot be a trustworthy partner for international negotiations.

A suspension of all negotiations with Iran by the West would also only be a sign, but at least one with a stronger impact on Tehran than a listless package of sanctions.

Germany is an important trading partner for Iran and a key player in the negotiations for the nuclear agreement. The federal government should use its leeway to work towards an end to the crackdown within the regime itself and to advocate a clear suspension of all negotiations at European level.

Because: in the same breath, the EU member states in the talks on Monday spoke out in favor of imposing new sanctions on Tehran if its military support for Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine – the recent attacks on Kyiv were allegedly carried out with drones made by Iran – be proven.

With a view to the Ukraine conflict, there seem to be possibilities, but the images from Iran do not seem to suffice for the political will to act decisively. Even if the power system in Tehran has not faltered so far, signs of solidarity are needed now. The protest movement must not be crushed without result.

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