by Navid Felker
Anti-regime movements in Iran rely on technology. In 2017 it was reported that there are 48 million smartphones in Iran, and this number is increasing each day. These devices are equipped with high quality cameras and internet access, making video and images of the repression that Iranians experience, such as live streams of protestors battling paramilitary forces, easily available to social media.
Protests of the ‘morality laws’ are displayed on Instagram, where women post photos of themselves waving their hijabs from atop cars and rooftops.
WhatsApp and Telegram messaging apps let Iranians communicate with family members in the Iranian diaspora, as well as within Iran. During the recent turn of the year uprising that spread across the country, they were used to help organize protests. With 200 million active users, Telegram is popular in Iran, and after many unsuccessful attempts, the regime has been unable to completely block its usage. Although the regime spends considerable resources attempting to maintain strict control over the Internet, it faces problems containing app use.
Now, Telegram announced the launch its own form of cryptocurrency, with the sale of $1.7 billion in the world’s largest and most successful initial coin offering (ICO) ever. According to HiBusiness, the latest offering round closed in March and raised $850 million from 94 investors, matching what the company raised in February. It is believed that the total proceeds may go higher, as the regulatory filing say that Telegram “may pursue one or more subsequent offerings.”
In fact, in an article published by Iran Lobby, they say, “Telegram aims to finance the creation of a distributed encrypted messaging network that would preserve itself through a cryptocurrency known as GRAM.” Although no tokens have yet been sold, it’s reported that one GRAM would be worth $0.10, and that the entire ecosystem will be capped at 5 billion GRAM.
What is disturbing to Iran’s leadership is that with the GRAM, ordinary Iranians could use currency that may be more stable and reliable than the regime’s own state-controlled rial. This potential for a significant loss of capital poses problems for the regime’s goal to jumpstart the economy following the Iran nuclear deal.
Additionally, HiBusiness writes that Telegram is close to completing its blockchain-based service, which is expected to make it harder for states like Iran to block its services. Users on the chat network would be able to relay their messages without depending on a specific Telegram data center, making it among the first decentralized messaging services.
On state televsion, Hassan Firouzabadi, secretary of Iran’s High Council for Cyberspace, has pushed for Telegram to be blocked. saying that Telegram’s dominance in Iran was “the enemy of the private sector.” He added, “Telegram has officially announced that it will be used as an economic platform, and Telegram will undermine the national currency of Iran,” according to U.S.-based news site Al-Monitor.
The move to block the messaging app “was a decision made at the highest levels, and Telegram will be replaced by a domestic app,” claimed Parliament member Alaeddin Boroujerdi on March 31st, according to the news source.
Regime-built apps are already offered in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store, that are meant to gain access to users’ data, according to a report offered by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the leading Iranian dissident group.