Where authoritarian government control and restrictions on individual liberties appear to be the strongest, the Bitcoin community is still growing and in some cases thriving. Just this week Coin Ava launched as the first Iranian Website open for Iranians to buy and sell Bitcoins. While Iranian leadership is known for tight regulations on citizens in particular for those seeking to utilize the internet and community with the rest of the world, Iranians have found a way around onerous authoritarian restrictions through the Bitcoin currency.
Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek pushed out an article, “Dollar-Less Iranians Discover Virtual Currency” to conclude, “For now, Iranians are using bitcoins to maintain a fragile connection to the outside world.” Iranian citizens are able to use the Bitcoin currency as a gateway to purchase products around the world and through the Bitcoin currency are not confined to a devalued Rial. As the Iranian regime continues to move forward with an illicit nuclear program despite international sanctions and pleas from leaders around the world to cease uranium enrichment, Iranian citizens are put in a tough situation. In the end of the day, Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, while claiming to act in the best interest of Iranians are actually compromising the financial health and well being of all Iranian citizens. Bitcoin provides a ray of hope for many Iranians in light of Iranian Authoritarian Leadership’s blatant disregard of international standards.
As a former Foreign Policy staff member for a Member of the US Congress, I understand the hesitancy some might have to applauding the growth of Bitcoin in Iran. Whereas it is evident that the current regime in Iran has violated international law through disregarding International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and frequently utilizing hate-filled rhetoric, it is also true that there is a sizable group of Iranian citizens who oppose the totalitarian actions of their government and are working to reform their country. The Iranian Bitcoin question is a touchy subject for most, but can be worked through if viewed through lenses centered on the purpose of the Bitcoin currency.
Whereas Bitcoin is a digital, decentralized currency, it serves as a source of empowerment for individuals around the world to take the initiative to control personal finances and become financially independent from a centralized source of control. In some nations, the desire to be independent from a central bank is not as strong as not all nations have authoritarian leadership and high inflation rates. Yet for some nations Bitcoin provides a source of financial security and promise outside of any centralized currency to citizens.
Coin Ava’s launch this week has prompted dialogue once again over the many purposes of the Bitcoin currency and the intrinsic value this digital, decentralized currency holds of citizens living under the auspices of an authoritarian government. From the perspective of a former Capitol Hill staffer who ardently opposses Iranian nuclear development, hate speech, and human rights violations, I see the growth of the Bitcoin currency in Iran as a direct affront and slap in the face of the Iranian authoritarian government. Where there is a will, there is a way, and Iranian citizens have worked to combat Iranian leadership’s poor decision making with the Bitcoin currency.