Correction: Since the initial report that Iran would revoke the citizenship of dual nations last week, some Iranian news sources have since stated the plan has not been finalized and some in the Iranian government have tried to walk back part of the proposal. This article has been amended to address new media claims.
Just before the one-year anniversary of Jason Rezaian’s freedom from an Iranian prison, Iran announced plans that will sabotage its own economy to spite the West. Last week, Al-Arabiya news reported that Iran’s judiciary decided to revoke the Iranian citizenship of anyone holding dual citizenship with another country . The finality of this proposal is unclear due to conflicting media reports. This could target men and women like Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, and Siamak Namazi, an American businessman who is currently in a notorious Tehran prison. While the action may satisfy the paranoid and power-hungry Revolutionary Guard that is responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of dual nationals – mostly American and British citizens – it would seriously hamper Iran’s ability to attract the foreign investment and engage its economy needs.
Dual nationals, many raised abroad, often have a cultural and linguistic fluency with Iran that non-Iranians lack, no matter their language training or cultural emersion. Moreover, since the Islamic Revolution, Americans who also held Iranian passports have travelled there more easily. Once in Iran, though, they have often faced harassment and recently imprisonment, as Rezaian did. Since the 1979 Revolution, dual nationals, some born abroad, have regularly returned to visit family, study and engage in business as natural conduits between cultures and economies.
During Iran’s tumultuous years of reform, conservative retrenchment and protest, dual-national journalists like Rezaian and former Time Magazine correspondent, Azadeh Moaveni, explained the changing Iran to western audiences. Their reporting (and those of their colleagues) helped sweep away the 1980s-era images of Iran as a black-robed, America-hating, hostage-taking society. They revealed a dynamic and politically engaged contemporary
Iranian society that consumes western television via illegal satellite dishes and subverts the regime’s dress code. At the same time, however, westerners – often through the work of dual-national journalists – witnessed the terrible reality of Iranian political oppression during mass protests such as the Green Revolution. Journalists have also chronicled the arrest and imprisonment of other dual nationals, based on trumped-up charges.
The Iranian government’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens would hurt Iran’s opportunity to attract foreign business and investment. Iranian regulations often require business negotiations to be conducted in Farsi, particularly when the government is an involved party. Dual nationals with Persian language skills, cultural familiarity and connections are crucial for bringing business opportunities to Iran. Already, dual citizens faced imprisonment and other threats from Tehran, yet they still traveled to Iran.
However, without Iranian citizenship, these people who could so naturally make connections and engage in cross-border business will face much greater difficulties traveling to Iran. Since the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Iran’s economy has been slowly rejoining the global markets. As it seeks foreign investment to reinvigorate its energy industry and global trade participation (post-sanctions) this could only hinder Iran’s economic growth.
Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and scholar of the energy industry. She writes and consults on the intersection of geopolitics and energy.