A letter signed by 30 exiled Iranians labeling themselves as “dissidents” has sent ripples through Iranian social media since December 24.
The letter appealed to US President-elect Donald Trump to take a hardline stance towards Iran by repealing President Obama's policies of rapprochement, terminate the Iran nuclear deal, and reinstate the nuclear sanctions aimed at the Iranian government. While those nuclear sanctions were meant to hurt the government, in many instances they had devastating effects on the lives of ordinary Iranians, including elements of civil society and human rights activists.
The letter has been trending on social media under the hashtag #نامه_به_ترامپ, which translates to “Letter_to_Trump.”
An excerpt of the letter can be seen here, asking the president-elect to aid in toppling the Islamic Republic of Iran's government.
Dear Mr. President-Elect,
We would like to congratulate you on your victory in the Presidential election of the United States of America.
We ask the President-Elect to send the clear message that the United States will not tolerate the increasing threats of the Islamic Republic of Iran against its citizens and neighbors. The new administration, in collaboration with the Congress, should expand the existing sanctions and impose new ones on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Supreme Leader’s financial empire and direct the U.S. Treasury to strongly enforce them…
The time has come for the United States to stand by the Iranian people instead of holding secret discussions with corrupt Islamic fundamentalists. Iran has the capacity to be one of the most steadfast allies of the United States in the world once the Islamic regime is gone. We hope under your leadership the United States helps the Iranian people to take back their country from the Islamist gang which has been in charge for the last four decades, as the world without the Islamic Republic and the Islamic State is a better place.
The letter was signed by a group of Iranians, the majority of whom live in the United States. Among them were two notable figures: Ahmed Batebi and Arash Sobhani.
Batebi was an iconic figure of Iran's student protests in 1999. He took a prominent stance against the nuclear negotiations with Iran, campaigning against it with Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran — an offshoot project of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — and appearing in their commercials in the United States.
Sobhani is a musician and television host. He is known for being the lead singer of the rock band Kiosk, as well as a past host of the satirical television show on American broadcaster Voice of America (Persian) called “OnTen.”
The majority of reactions on social media have been critical of the group's request of Trump. According to work by Internet researcher Amir Rashidi on social media tracking service Keyhole, the majority of reactions attached to the hashtag #نامه_به_ترامپ have come out of Iran and argue that these signatories in the diaspora are out of touch with the demands of Iranians inside of the country.
هشتگ #نامه_به_ترامپ تا الان بالای ۵ هزار توییت داشته و بیش از ۷۴ درصد آنها از داخل ایران ارسال شده است.اوجش هم ساعت ۲ عصر به وقت نیویورک بود
— AmiR Rashidi (@Ammir) December 24, 2016
The hashtag #letter_to_Trump till now has had more than 5,000 tweets and more than 74% of those tweets have come from inside of Iran.
One Iranian posted to Twitter: “#letter_to_Trump reminds me of Uncle Napoleon's love letter to Hitler.” “My Uncle Napoleon” was a popular Iranian television show that centred around a quirky character during the Allied Occupation of Iran during World War II. Uncle Napoleon wished to make a pact with Hitler's Nazi government against Britain's imperial influence in the country.
— Azin Mohajerin (@behazin21) December 25, 2016
Siamak Eskandari's post: #letter_to_Trump reminds me of Uncle Napoloean's love letter to Hitler.
Azin Mohajerin's tweet: #letter_to_Trump
While there are calls to pressure the Iranian government to release political prisoners and to hold them accountable for numerous repressive policies to which the signatories allude, Iranians inside the country do not welcome the kind of antagonism between their government and the United States that the letter asks for.
The letter has bolstered hardline Americans’ hawkish attitudes towards Iran. Right-wing US news channel Fox News ran a post on its website about the letter, describing a possible new chapter in US foreign policy on Iran under Trump. They hinted that this might be a new direction away from the National Iranian American Council's (NIAC) work to re-establish ties with Iran, and toward this “dissident” group and others:
Over the past several years, the pro-Iran nuclear deal lobby led by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) had the Obama administration’s ear. Now, some are now hoping Trump will reach out to the myriad Iran opposition groups, ranging from the Monarchists to the Liberals.
BBC Persian journalist Bahman Kalbasi was quick to criticize Fox News for claiming the group that had signed the open letter had influence on civil society and dissidence in Iran:
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) December 24, 2016
A hardline Iranian newspaper Sobh-e No reacted to the news by running a front cover with the photos of all 30 signatories next to a photo of Trump with the headline “30 Sellouts of Their Own Countrymen.”
To defend himself, Arash Sobhani appeared on BBC Persian on December 26 to argue that his appeal to Trump did not mean he was a supporter of the controversial president-elect, but rather that he is concerned about human rights inside of Iran. Iranians inside of Iran, however, have different opinions on how to approach reform.
— BBC Persian (@bbcpersian) December 26, 2016
Talks between Ibrahim Naboee and Arash Sobhani about #letter_to_Trump reached a boiling point.
An earlier headline for this story incorrectly characterized all the signatories of the letter as Iranian-Americans.