TEHRAN – Iran’s cyber monitors often tout their fight against the West’s “soft war” of influence through the Web, but trying to block Google’s popular Gmail appeared to be a swipe too far.
Complaints piled up – even from email-starved parliament members – and forced authorities Sunday to double down on their promises to create a parallel Web universe with Tehran as its center.
The strong backlash and the unspecific pledges for an Iran-centric Internet alternative to the Silicon Valley powers and others highlight the two sides of the Islamic republic’s ongoing battles with the Web. It’s spurred another technological mobilization that fits neatly into Iran’s self-crafted image as the Muslim world’s showcase for science, including sending satellites into orbit, claiming advances in cloning and stem cell research and facing down the West over its nuclear program.
But there also are the hard realities of trying to reinvent the Web. Iran’s highly educated and widely tech-savvy population is unlikely to warm quickly to potential clunky homegrown browsers or email services. And then there’s the potential political and economic fallout of trying to close the tap on familiar sites such as Gmail.
“Some problems have emerged through the blocking of Gmail,” Hussein Garrousi, a member of a parliamentary committee on industry, said Sunday. What he apparently meant was that many lawmakers were angry and missing their emails.
He said parliament would summon the minister of telecommunications for questioning if the ministry did not lift the Gmail ban, which was imposed last week in response to clips on Google-owned YouTube of a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad that set off deadly protests across the Islamic world.
Iran’s deputy telecoms minister, Ali Hakim Javadi, told reporters that Iranian authorities were considering lifting the Gmail ban. But he also used the opportunity to again promise development of Iran’s domestic alternatives: the Fakhr (“Pride”) search engine and the Fajr (“Dawn”) email, Aftab-e Yazd reported.
Iran’s clerical establishment has long signaled its intent to get citizens off of the international Internet – which they say promotes Western values – and onto a “national” and “clean” domestic network. Earlier this year, Iran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, called Google an “instrument of espionage.”