The fate of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian girl who died in detention after being imprisoned for a story of an ill-fitting veil, had the effect of a bomb in Iran. Hundreds of demonstrations have emerged across the country, with entire cohorts of young women taking the risk of appearing without their veils in tribute to the young woman.
But in this country ruled with an iron fist by a fundamentalist religious junta, the authorities and the police traditionally maintain a very special relationship with freedom of expression and information. Obviously, they see this frontal opposition with a very bad eye; the state apparatus is therefore doing everything possible to muzzle the demonstrators. This notably involves major restrictions on access to the Internet and social networks such as Instagram or Whatsapp.
This is particularly important, because in the case of a cause like this, visibility is the sinews of war; if the Iranian women’s fight takes place behind closed doors, their claims will necessarily have less weight. In addition, they will be all the more exposed to the reprisals promised by the regime. And this is a threat that could not be more concrete. President Ebrahim Raisi said last Saturday that Iran must “decisively deal with those who oppose the security and tranquility of the country”; a speech that does not bode well for the “rioters”, as the government calls them.
Uncle Sam always on the lookout
This is where the United States comes in. Uncle Sam is never far away when anything is happening in this part of the world. And he proved it again recently. For the American government, this event is an opportunity as it loves to present itself as the planetary policeman of freedoms and justice, while putting a spoke in the wheels of the Mullahs’ regime without getting directly involved in the conflict.
Last Friday, lawmakers therefore chose to authorize all web operators who have the capacity to serve Iran, without asking the government for specific permission. A rare decision, knowing that the country is considered particularly sensitive by the government; usually, it is more or less impossible for a US national to establish any connection there. To achieve this, it is imperative to show a white paw to the federal authorities.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken explains that with this decision, the United States hopes “advancing freedom and the free flow of information for the people of Iran” and “counter Iranian government censorship”.
Musk wants to make Starlink available to protesters
Information that certainly did not fall on deaf ears. Because according to Reutrers, Musk had announced last week his desire to make Starlink available to Iranians. This constellation of web satellites could therefore already be deployed in Iran.
This is not the first time that Elon Musk has wielded Starlink as a weapon in the service of freedom. Very recently, it had already provided this service to Ukrainian fighters, often deprived of connection following sabotage by the Russian invaders. A contribution welcomed by those concerned, for whom this logistical support was apparently invaluable. And for Musk, it was also an opportunity to get some great publicity while donning his superhero cape.
It will therefore be appropriate to observe the repercussions of this contribution on the situation in Iran; the future will tell us if it will be concretely useful above all symbolic.
We also see that Starlink is establishing itself as an important tool of geopolitical influence. It will therefore be interesting to monitor the involvement of Elon Musk and SpaceX in this field with particular attention in the years to come.