As I watched the people of Iran dance in the streets last week in celebration of the announced nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1, I compared the situation for a friend to an old fable I had learned when I was about 8 years old.
The story, which originally comes from an old Jewish tale but has been told in many traditions, is about a poor farmer who lives with his wife and six children in a very small house.
One day the farmer goes to his religious leader and says, “My family and I can hardly breathe. We have very modest means and cannot afford to buy a bigger home.”
The religious leader comforts him and asks him if he is willing to do whatever he advises. The farmer, desperate for a better life, gladly agrees.
“Do you have any animals?” the religious leader asks.
“Yes, I have one cow, one goat, and a few chickens,” the farmer responds.
“Good, when you get home, bring these animals in to live with you.”
The farmer was baffled by his leader’s advice, but as he had promised to do exactly what he was instructed, he accepted.
The next day the farmer, who had not slept at all the night before, goes to see the religious man and charges, “What have you done to me?! Our situation has only gotten worse with the animals.”
So from there, the religious man instructs the farmer to first remove the cow and the following day the goat and lastly the chickens.
The farmer comes back and says, “Oh, the house is quiet and there is so much room now! I never knew how blessed I was!”
Later, I heard that this same fable coincidently has been circulating around Iran as the people find its lesson analogous with their current experience.
It’s understandable that the average Iranian is celebrating a deal that could significantly improve Iran’s hard-hit economy, as they have suffered extensively and unjustly under Western-imposed sanctions that deeply inflated prices on basic groceries, pharmaceuticals and just about everything else.
As a source in Iran said to me this week, “What’s shocking is to take a step back and to see that the Iranian people have been under so much pressure that we are actually celebrating going back to what the country was 40 years ago.”
Like the farmer and his small home, the Iranian people’s jubilation is only relative to the hardships that they have been forced to endure—not just economically, but socially and politically as well.
Most Iranians know that the deal was a win-win for their government.
Not only were the Mullahs able to walk away with a deal that absolves them of all their activities in the region, including their involvement in Syria, in supporting the Houthis in Yemen, in supporting global terror and funding Hezbollah and in establishing a political and military presence in Iraq, but they were made to look like heroes back at home.
By at least temporarily relieving the threat of a grassroots uprising for Iran’s government, the West eliminated the single largest intimidation for the Mullahs; not the threat that the West would walk away from the table, but fear that the people of Iran would once again walk onto the streets.
In the Green Revolution of 2009, the people of Iran came out in protest hoping for a future without their government. Now, they are on the streets celebrating a future with the same.
Simply put: The Mullahs are being hailed for solving a problem–which they created.
The Iranian regime masterfully passed the burden of economic sanctions onto the people and packaged these daily hardships with a “Death to America” insignia, ensuring that the Iranian people place blame on the West and not on their leaders.
Meanwhile, as Iran’s Main Street economy was spiraling into abysmal depths, the government was pouring money into Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen and maintaining its superlative as the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, instead of helping with subsidies at home.
But this is a game the regime has played for a very long time; pursuing its regional hegemonic aspirations at the expense of the Iranian people.
And now that the deal has been announced, this should not be a baptism for the Iranian government that has continued with its sky-high rate of executions and human rights abuses against journalists, bloggers, dancers, musicians and others, in addition to holding three Americans in prison: Pastor Saeed Abdini, Marine Amir Hekmati and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian with possible information about special operations agent Robert Levinson, who remains the longest held in American history.
This is the time to pressure the Iranian regime for behavioral changes in the region with its far-reaching tentacles and goals of Shiite-domination as well as back at home for its people.
My hope for the Iranian people is not a future based on relative gains like that of the farmer and the current jubilations on the streets of Tehran, but one based significant change–with true human rights and freedoms.
Lisa Daftari is an investigative journalist focusing on foreign affairs with expertise in the Middle East & counterterrorism (LisaDaftari.com).