For all his faults and, well, ghastly execution rates, one thing can be said for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: the man has really gone out of his way to be a spokesman for the youth of his country (when they’re not looking to throw off their head-coverings, that is).
More specifically, Rouhani has vocally advocated opening Iran up to the internet – a slightly more attainable goal than easing censorship in the country or boosting media freedom (we’ll note that Rouhani has been quite silent on jailed journalist Jason Rezaian).
But on the internet, the leader has been a lot more vocal. In a meeting with clerics in Tehran earlier this week, Rouhani said, “We cannot close the gates of the world for the younger generation.” He also pitted himself against clerics who have declared mobile 3G networks “immoral and unlawful.”
But is Rouhani’s stand on the internet as progressive as it seems? While the internet has been described by particularly reactionary clerics as a “swamp” where the “poisonous atmosphere” of the West is disseminated, it has also been described as an opportunity to spread the ideas of the Iranian Revolution and “display our Iranian and Islamic culture.”
And while Rouhani has seemingly won the battle against the hardliners where internet access is concerned, the increased access has also given rise to increased surveillance and threats of punishment for “seditious” activities.
So has Iran’s internet battle been won, or hasn’t it?