A new report on "the view from Iran" finds that representatives of the country's civil society unequivocally support a nuclear agreement with world powers, fervently hope for relief from years of sanctions and isolation, and fear that the disintegration of international diplomacy would bring devastating consequences—and potentially war.
"If we reach an agreement... we can demand our rights as human beings."
—Mahmoud Dolatabadi, author
Entitled High Hopes, Tempered Expectations, the report was released Monday by the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and draws on in-depth interviews with civil society leaders, including journalists, scholars, lawyers, writers, artists, family members of political prisoners, and former members of parliament.
Released just days ahead of the global agreement's June 30 deadline, which Iranian and western negotiators say they are willing to extend in order to seal a final deal, the report issues a stark warning to the world.
"All of the respondents felt failure of the negotiations would be catastrophic for Iranian society, leading to greater economic hardship, increased repression and further loss of political and cultural freedoms, the weakening of President Rouhani and moderate forces in Iran, and an increased chance of a military confrontation," states the study.
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"Social hopelessness would increase drastically," an unnamed journalist and former political prisoner told researchers. "The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult... [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode...[and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent."
Civil society and social movement organizations across the globe, including the United States, have urged a diplomatic route rather than a path to war. Notably, the report finds that, among Iranian civil society representatives interviewed, support for a diplomatic agreement is unanimous—even among those critical of the government and skeptical that benefits will be fairly distributed.
For example, 71 percent of respondents said they believe a deal would bring economic benefits, but one-fifth of those respondents said that these benefits would not reach ordinary Iranians. Twenty-five percent of respondents, likewise, said such economic gains would only go to the wealthy.
"The highest cost imposed by sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups."
—Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, activist
Furthermore, 61 percent of people surveyed said they believe a settlement "should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties." But 36 percent said "Rouhani did not have the ability to achieve progress in these areas or directly questioned Rouhani’s willingness to push forward with meaningful changes in the state of basic rights and freedoms in Iran."
But every single person interviewed said that, however imperfect an agreement, the diplomatic route is far preferable to the alternative. The ongoing international sanctions regime is already politically, culturally, and economically devastating to ordinary Iranians, they warned, and the failure of the talks would almost certainly be catastrophic.
"For a number of years, Iran's international isolation and all the excuses for putting pressure on our country, particularly the sanctions, have destroyed the Iranian people's psychological security, and have left them preoccupied, and of course, many people have suffered direct or indirect loss," said Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, described in the report as a civil activist and wife of political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh. "The highest cost imposed by sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups."
Amid fears of catastrophe, and skepticism about a quick fix to domestic problems, the report states that "a palpable sense of hope runs though these interviews."
"If we reach an agreement... we can demand our rights as human beings," said author Mahmoud Dolatabadi. "But if there is not resolution, I can't tell what may happen. At any rate, I am hopeful and I wish for an agreement."