In a year full of ways in which political decisions of the late 70s have come back to haunt the UK, the past few days have witnessed among the most predictable.
During the storming of the UK embassy in Tehran last Tuesday, protesters, with little resistance from ever-present government security forces, passed the embassy gates, replacing the British flag with an Iranian one. This came shortly after UK Shadow Chancellor George Osborne’s order that all UK financial and credit institutions cease trading with Iran banks, a decision itself in reaction to the International Atomic Energy Authority’s downgrading of Iran’s nuclear programme. The storming of the UK embassy, acknowledging the accusations that it was tolerated and even facilitated by the Iranian state, constituted a breach of the Vienna Accord of 1961 which considers all embassies to be the sovereign territories of their respective nations. Both the immediate closure of the UK embassy in Tehran, and subsequently the Iranian embassy in the UK, come as no surprise and comparisons to the storming and closure of the American embassy in 1979 seem inevitable.
After this event in 1979, a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the US erupted, following 52 Americans being held hostage for more than a year, finally being released in November 1981 -the same day Ronald Reagan took the presidency from Jimmy Carter, whose lengthy and unfruitful negotiations to release the hostages wearied the public. The fear catalysed by these events in Iran propelled new levels of broadcasting and viewership devotion: it was the National Broadcasting Corporation’s opportunity to take over the twenty-four hour cycle with Niteline, a programme originally intended for the short-term, under the title The Iran Crisis– America Held Hostage: Day ___.
With memories fading, and taking diplomatic setbacks in stride, Hillary Clinton has announced that the US will open a ‘virtual embassy’ for Iran, to be launched this year (and of which little else is known) mainly intended to aid prospective students enter the US. It is planned to circumvent the strictures of the Iranian territory through a de-materialised reincarnation online, undeterred by the state crackdown on social media, and perhaps riding the waves of 2009’s online manifestations of dissent following Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
But the removal of an embassy from a territory and its relocation online shows no signs of waning anti-imperialist sentiment. There are already reports that the yet-to-be launched American embassy will itself be ‘occupied’ by Iranian hackers. In fact, since the cyber attacks on Estonian government sites by suspected Russian hackers reacting to the relocation of Soviet-era war graves, government-affiliated websites may even be more at risk than their physical counterparts in the future.