Iranian social media users attacked a meme by government-run media quoting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying that Iran will “survive” the US sanctions reimposed after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal.
At Rome Med 2018—Mediterranean Dialogues, a conference held Nov. 22-24, Zarif was reminded, “You’ve insisted many times that Iran has survived since 1979,” which prompted him to respond, “We haven’t survived since 1979, we’ve survived 7 millennia.” To the laugher and applause of the audience, he added, jovially, “I’m in Italy, so I can say that Italians and Iranians have had empires that have lasted longer than the entire life of some countries.”
In a more serious tone, Zarif continued, “We’ve survived, and we’ve progressed. Come to Iran today and see that we have progressed in many areas. Of course, we lack in some areas. There has been pressure on Iran. There are problems, economic problems, economic hardship for our population. Sanctions, as you know, always target ordinary people. At the end of the day, those are the people who suffer from sanctions. And that is the purpose of these sanctions, and that is the purpose of the previous sanctions. We’ve been under sanctions for 40 years. And that point that I made about the depth of our history gives us this perspective that we should not submit to bullying.”
The response by Zarif, who has been traveling extensively trying to salvage the nuclear deal with European countries while simultaneously projecting a brave face on sanctions, might have been quickly forgotten or buried by other stories from around the world, but Pad, the official Twitter account of the media office of President Hassan Rouhani's administration not only tweeted a video of that segment of the Rome Med conference but also posted a picture of a defiant and stoic Zarif with the text, “We’ll survive.”
As is often the case with government-handled messaging, the effort by the administration to highlight Zarif’s comment backfired. Social media users soon began tweeting variations of the hashtag “We’ll survive,” applying it to any number of situations and issues. Some used it to raise awareness about the Haft Tapeh sugarcane factory workers and Ahvaz steel workers, who are currently on strike. Others used the hashtag to highlight women’s rights protests and opposition to mandatory veiling.
A number of anonymous accounts tweeted with the hashtag in support of regime change. Even those not supportive of regime change conceded that the attempt to turn Zarif’s statement about surviving into a meme had gone awry.
“It’s understandable why some who are also patriotic object to ‘we’ll survive,’” tweeted one user. “In this very administration next to Zarif are people like [Mohammad Reza] Nematzadeh and [Mohammad] Shariatmadari.” Nematzadeh, a former minister of mines, industry, and business, and Shariatmadari, current minister of cooperatives, labor, and social welfare, have both had accusations of corruption leveled against them, and Rouhani has continued to stand by them.
BBC News Persian addressed the survival issue in a segment, inviting two guests from Iran to comment on Zarif's remarks. Both agreed that although Iran will survive, and indeed had survived worse during the Iran-Iraq War, domestic conditions today are different from what they were in the 1980s.