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Opinion

Opinion: Rouhani in Europe: Misunderstood hospitality

Despite the appeal of lucrative business opportunities in Iran after the lifting of sanctions, the West should not bend over backwards for the mullahs, writes DW's Alexander Freund.

Some are rubbing their hands ecstatically; others are rubbing their eyes: The sanctions against Iran have just been lifted and the race for lucrative business contracts has already begun. Everybody wants a piece of the action. It is no wonder, as Iran is in dire need of catching up after decades of isolation.

The country offers incredible market opportunities and it is rich, too. It has vast oil deposits and certain circles of society undeniably have financial resources. So now, company representatives, ministers and heads of state from around the world are traveling to Tehran to promote mutual benefits and their traditionally close ties. In return, the Iranian president travels the world and is courted by all. Not long ago, a pariah of the international community, he has now become an interesting trade partner.

Submissive obedience

The red carpet is rolled out for the Iranian president wherever he goes. Even the pope received President Rouhani, even if it was not about business. The Iranian guest in Rome was shielded from anything disturbing; demonstrators should not jeopardize the lucrative business opportunities. In the Eternal City, the hospitality even went so far that world-class art was covered as a precaution, to spare the pious man from Teheran from the sight of nude sculptures. Have they gone crazy?

Freund Alexander Kommentarbild App

DW's Alexander Freund

This misunderstood hospitality is unnecessary and only elicits protests from the wrong people. Of course, hosts prefer to show guests their best side and ensure a pleasant stay. And that includes not forcing a devout Muslim to eat pork or drink a fine red wine – just as one does not offer a practicing Hindu beef or a vegetarian meat.

But hospitality has limits, and these limits are transgressed if relations are only geared to the making of money. If the host wants to drink his wine because it is important and not prohibited, then a good guest accepts this desire. A cultural nation like Italy should definitely not cover any statues because nudity may offend the religious sentiments of a state guest. In the worst case, the guest must just simply look away or stay away.

The price of partnership

But this is not really about wine, naked statues or the relationship between a guest and host, which is also important in the Islamic world. It is about the cost of economic cooperation. It's about tough deals, but also one's own self-image, especially in secular democracies which fought long and hard for their values - and it's about the separation of state and religion.

Of course, one can do business with undemocratic countries, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia or Iran, but not at the expense of one's own identity and one's own values.

Besides the business transactions, addressing contentious issues is also a part of any partnership. This situation shows that Iran has not yet shown itself to be a partner, but merely a market. The country has not opened; it has only opened its doors to lucrative business opportunities. Iran did not discontinue its nuclear program out of conviction, but instead, because the international pressure was too great and the sanctions had brought the country to its knees. The power of the mullahs in the self-proclaimed theocracy remains unbroken.

Change through trade

Compared to Iran's spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, President Rouhani may be the lesser evil, but the West's current ingratiation with Iran is borderline. Despite all the revenue opportunities, it should not be forgotten that nothing at all has improved in Iran in recent years.

As tempting as the lucrative business deals may be, our values of freedom and the rule of law are still more important. The mullah regime and malleable states and companies should not be the only ones to benefit from the changes. The benefits must also be felt by the international community and the Iranian people. The latter, in particular, not only wants more goods and services, but above all, change for the better and an opening of the country to the outside world.

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