On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s United Nations General Assembly speech will be greeted by dozens of groups protesting the legitimacy of his position at the UN. In fact, demonstrations have already begun, with protesters staking out Ahmadinejad’s hotel and any building where he is scheduled to speak. However, despite their persistence, anti-Ahmadinejad protesters don’t seem to be accomplishing much of anything.
The Iranian president is no stranger to these demonstrations, which have accompanied his foreign trips for years. In fact, his public statements often seem designed to stoke controversy — within the first full day of his visit, Ahmadinejad made public statements targeting not only Israel, but the United States, Syrian rebels, and gay rights groups.
These provocative statements are a deliberate challenge to United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who had cautioned against making unnecessarily inflammatory comments. In a press conference Monday morning, Ahmadinejad downplayed Israel’s history in the Middle East, claiming that, “…they [Israel] do not even enter the equation for Iran,” and dismissing concerns about an Israeli attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment plants.
However, there are unlikely to be repercussions at the UN for Ahmadinejad’s insulting rhetoric, and years of protests have done nothing to change his status at the international organization. Given this reality, it’s tempting to wonder why anti-Ahmadinejad groups continue to show up en masse, particularly as Ahmadinejad is ineligible to run for president after his term expires this year.
Still, a variety of organizations, including anti-nuclear groups like United Against Nuclear Iran, Jewish and Israeli groups, and Iranian-American groups continue to assemble in New York each year, calling for democracy in Iran, an end to the Iranian nuclear program, and accountability for human rights violations during Ahmadinejad’s rule. These protests may do little to change official UN policy, but protest organizers hope that they will help to keep people talking about issues surrounding Iran, in an era when the news cycle means that even the most important stories get buried almost instantly.
According to Bitta Mostofi, an organizer of the planned “Voices for Iran: No to Ahmadinejad, Yes to Human Rights — rally at the UN,” the goal of the rally is to “create a forum in which we’re able to open up a new dialogue about Iran.” Similarly, in an interview with PolicyMic, President of the Iranian-American Community of New York and New Jersey Allen Tasslimi expressed his hope that the protests would “[draw] the attention of the civilized people everywhere” to the issue of human rights abuses under Ahmadinejad.
While the UN General Assembly provides a convenient opportunity to generate news coverage in the short term, it’s less clear that those protesters focused on human rights will be able to shape the narrative about Iran beyond the UN summit. With little cooperation between the various Iran-focused human rights advocacy groups, it’s likely that human rights issues will be overshadowed by enduring concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons development and the US and Israeli response.