Four years after the nationwide ban on Facebook in Iran, you can now "like" Hassan Rouhani ... in more ways than one. Rouhani and 15 members of his cabinet have joined the site that was banned in 2009 just before the June elections. This was allegedly done to stifle any organization of opposition forces and protests, as well as criticism of the Islamic Republic. Rouhani, however, championed openness, transparency, and moderation throughout his campaign. In fact, the recent election of Rouhani is symbolic of a much more liberal and moderate regime unlike predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's. Many believe this government use of Facebook and Twitter are promising signs of reduced censorship.
Saeed Leilaz, a Tehran-based political analyst told the Associated Press, "Definitely filtering on Facebook will be lifted, and we will witness the elimination of filters (on the rest of) internet." Only last year, Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei created his own page, despite the ban against sites like Twitter and Facebook. According to the AP, Khamenei decreed the sites were permissible so long as they were not used for "corrupting or bad purposes." But is lifting the ban on Facebook and Twitter an easy out from the shroud of government censorship? These attempts to reach out on social media cannot replace formal government action in terms of diplomacy or foreign and domestic policies.
Yet, these initial moves bode well not only for the Iran general public, who have up until now used proxy sites to access filtered pages, but also for Iran's foreign policy and diplomatic ties. Unlike Ahmadinejad, Rouhani issued a statement following his confirmation as president promising to pursue amicable relationships with the international community in order to "enhance mutual trust." Last week's tweets from Rouhani wishing all Jews a "blessed Rosh Hashana" are preliminary indications of progress toward Iran's newfound diplomacy. How this will play out beyond timelines or newsfeeds has yet to be seen.
Some believe Rouhani's regime will in some ways mimic that of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Khatami's presidency began with an increase in social and cultural reforms particularly as it related to political life. He also emphasized greater dialogue within and throughout the international community. In fact, during his presidency U.S. bans on particular Iran imports, including medicine and agricultural products, were lifted.
However, opening up diplomatic borders and lines of communication is by no means indicative of a regime willing to negotiate national priorities, particularly Iran's nuclear program. Rouhani did however promise to increase transparency "by promoting step-by-step measures in order to reassure the international community about Iranian ambitions," according to an article in the Guardian.
These are not instances of Rouhani's promises completely fulfilled, but rather signs — albeit positive ones — of what is to come. Will these open lines of communication pan out in the long run? It is much too early to tell.