Your Middle East was one of the first non-Iranian media outlets to break the news that Iran has blocked key Google services. The news spread like a wildfire, but no one asked what this move means for the future.
We turned to Professor Ali Ansari, one of the world’s leading experts on Iran, to hear his views on the matter.
Your Middle East: Millions of Iranians use Google and Gmail; could a ban of the sites lead to widespread national protests?
Ali Ansari: Doubtful, in large part because any blocking of Google in practice will take some time and may be patchy to begin with and Iranians are proving themselves excellent at finding ways round various filters. At the same time it is difficult to know how effective such a move could be without severely disrupting business. There is little doubt that it will add substantially to the frustrations felt by millions of Iranians.
YME: Is there a breaking point in sight – that is, when do you think the Iranian people will react against the regime?
AA: I think you are already seeing frustrations coming to the surface with the reports of attacks on the Basij. The establishment is certainly increasingly anxious of the impact of the economic downturn but the full effects have yet to be felt.
YME: Today, social media is the hottest thing around, but can access to Internet and/or technology ever cause political protests large enough to shake the Iranian regime?
AA: Social media and the mobile have facilitated protests but they are not essential. Iranians have been organising protests for a century, well before all the mod cons of modern technology. By and large word of mouth has always been the most effective method of organising protest and given the level of distrust between government and society, the potential for rumour to generate disenchantment and protest continue to be high.