The Iran protests and their ripple effects will travel far and wide

The Iran protests and their ripple effects will travel far and wide

Hi there Intriguer. Climate activists from UK-based ‘Just Stop Oil’ organised an unexpected Andy Warhol x Van Gogh collab on Friday, emblazoning Van Gogh’s 135-year-old ‘Sunflowers’ with a can of tomato soup before glueing their hands to the wall of London’s National Gallery. The activists want to stop plans to explore and extract fossil fuels off England’s east coast. But, no need to shed a tear for Van Gogh – the painting is covered by glass and was unharmed.

Today’s briefing is a ~5.2 min read:

  • 🔥 The Iran protests and their ripple effects will travel far and wide.
  • ➕ Plus: Elon Musk gets involved with Russo-Ukraine negotiations, Indonesia builds a bullet train, and Thailand tightens its gun laws.

What Iran’s protests mean for the country and beyond

In brief:

  • Iranian anti-regime protests are now entering their fourth week, proving resilient despite violent repression.
  • The ongoing demonstrations have implications for Iran’s foreign policy: negotiations to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal are on the back burner, and Tehran has struggled to project power abroad while being challenged from within.

Iranian newspapers featuring Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked nationwide anti-regime protests.

One month in

“For the students, for the future.”

These lyrics come from ‘Barāye’, the unofficial anthem of the ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran, which are now entering their fourth consecutive week.

The size and scope of the protests caught Tehran off-guard, but regime forces have responded with a commensurate show of force.

  • According to the latest estimates, at least 215 people, including 27 minors, have died during the crackdown, with many more imprisoned.

Striking a chord: Women and young people are leading the movement but have been joined in recent weeks by Iranians from across society.

  • Even petrochemical workers in the country’s oil-rich southern provinces have gone on strike in solidarity, posing a direct threat to Iran’s oil revenues.

The geopolitical angle

The protests are sending shockwaves across the globe.

1. 💣 The Iran Nuclear Deal

Efforts to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal have been faltering for a while now, but Iran’s response to the protests is likely to complicate matters further.

When asked for updates on the Iran Nuclear Deal, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price replied:

“That’s not our focus right now. […] A deal certainly does not appear imminent.”

Rough translation: The space for US-Iran cooperation has shrunk even faster than woollen jumpers in a dryer.

The decision to halt negotiations is equal parts practical and strategic:

  1. The Nuclear Deal is politically divisive in the US. With midterms approaching, Democrats likely want to avoid engaging with the Iranian regime.
  2. And, the US might be hoping the protests will weaken Iran’s leverage at the negotiating table.

2. 🗺 Iran’s foreign policy 

Projecting power abroad requires stable foundations at home. These protests prove Iran is anything but domestically stable:

“The assumption no longer holds that Iran’s leaders can manage domestically while facing international isolation and economic pressure—and also maintain a great deal of regional reach—without feeling threatened by things imploding from below.”

Professor Vali Nasr, former dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

A challenge to all

Many of Iran’s autocratic neighbours, allies or otherwise, worry that the protests might spill across their borders.

  • As Professor Nasr explains: “[Iranians] are revolting over the right of the state to decide what people wear and do. That’s a very new and very powerful form of revolt.

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Southeast Asia & the Pacific

🇦🇺 Australia

Australia has reversed a 2018 decision recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

  • Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong described the decision by former-Prime Minister Scott Morrison to recognise West Jerusalem as a political ploy that “undermine[d] the prospects of a two-state solution”.
  • Though ties between the countries remain strong, the Israeli Foreign Ministry condemned the about-face and summoned Australia’s Ambassador for a dressing down.

🇮🇩 Indonesia

A 142-kilometre bullet train linking Indonesia’s capital Jakarta with Bandung, the capital of West Java province, is nearly complete.

  • The $7.8B venture, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, will cut travel times between the cities from three hours to ~40 minutes.
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo seems to be making good on his promise to revamp the country’s infrastructure, having inaugurated Jakarta’s subway in 2019.

🇲🇭 Marshall Islands

Efforts to renegotiate the ‘Compact of Free Association’ – an American treaty with the Marshall Islands – have hit a snag over US unwillingness to compensate for extensive nuclear bomb testing that irreparably damaged the Islands’ ecosystem.

  • The US detonated 67(!) nuclear warheads on the Bikini and Enewetak Atolls between 1946 and 1958.
  • Experts believe that failure to renegotiate the treaty, which is focused on economic and security assistance, could bolster Chinese influence in the region.

🇹🇭 Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is tightening gun laws and expanding drug and mental health services following the massacre at a daycare center earlier this month.

  • Thailand has a sizable illegal gun trade and lax gun laws relative to other countries in the region, with about 15 registered guns per 100 people.
  • The new directive aims to crack down on weapons smuggling and orders law enforcement to revoke licenses from owners who are deemed a threat.

🇻🇺 Vanuatu

Coalition negotiations kicked off in Vanuatu after none of the major parties secured a simple majority in last week’s elections.

  • Prime Minister Bob Loughman dissolved parliament in August to avoid a no-confidence vote, leading to snap elections.
  • Loughman is one of four former Prime Ministers vying for the top job.

🙏You Musk hear me out

Via Giphy

The news: Elon Musk – aka the billionaire who won’t give us a moment’s peace – has decided that now is the time to moonlight as a diplomatic negotiator, posting a series of tweets urging the West and Ukraine to negotiate with Russia.

  • Specifically, Musk argues that Ukraine should make territorial concessions to avoid the threat of a nuclear war.
  • On Monday, he tweeted:

“If Russia is faced with the choice of losing Crimea or using battlefield nukes, they will choose the latter. We’ve already sanctioned/cutoff Russia in every possible way, so what more do they have left to lose?

We note without comment that Musk’s position more or less mirrors that of President Putin:

  • The Russian leader made several not-so-veiled nuclear threats following a string of Ukrainian counter-offensives earlier this year… not to mention the nuclear threats he made at the start of the war… and the ones he’s made in years prior.

The question is, is Musk contributing in good faith to a public policy debate with no easy answers, or is he unwittingly amplifying Kremlin propaganda?

Using billionaires may be part of Putin’s plan: According to former US National Security Council senior official Fiona Hill:

“[Putin] uses prominent people as intermediaries to feel out the general political environment, to basically test how people are going to react to ideas. […] Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin.”

Deterrence is key: Putin’s nuclear threats should not be taken lightly (we are talking about nuclear bombs, after all).

  • Still, as the head of Norway’s armed forces told Reuters, the threat of nuclear warfare is more useful to Putin than the actual warheads.

“It’s about deterrence, as it was during the Cold War. It is about making sure that  [Russia] has the capability and showing us, the rest of the world, that it can do it”


Historians cite Mr. Franklin as one of the first documented “I totally prefer books to TV” guys.

We here at Intrigue love public libraries – remember this Twitter thread we posted back in July? In that vein, here’s one of our favourite library facts.

  • In 1778, during the American Revolution, the town of Exeter, Massachusetts, changed its name to Franklin in honour of the bespectacled American founder, Benjamin Franklin.
  • In return, Franklin (the town) asked Franklin (the man) to send a copy of the Liberty Bell to hang in the church steeple. Instead, the Philadelphian sent a selection of books from his vast personal collection.
  • Rather than require a subscription for their use, the town decided that the books should be available to all its citizens, making Franklin home to the first public library in the United States!

We want to know what you’re reading! Drop the book’s name and why Intriguers ought to know about it below and we’ll put the best of the bunch in next week’s “Letters” section.

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