Spreading democracy, one iPad at a time

  • Article by: JOSHUA KEATING , Slate
  • Updated: August 29, 2013 - 8:05 PM

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani

Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi, AP

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Apple may like to tout its global customer base in those gauzy TV commercials, but not every country has access to the company’s gleaming miracle machines. Until recently, Apple products, along with a wide array of communications technologies, were subject to U.S. sanctions and could not be sold, or even brought into, Iran.

This led to an embarrassing incident for the company last year when a 19-year-old Iranian-American woman and her uncle were prevented from buying an iPad at an Apple store in Georgia after a clerk overheard them speaking Farsi. “Our countries do not have good relations” the clerk told her, though she had planned to give the tablet to her sister in North Carolina.

But on May 30, the Treasury Department announced it was easing tech-export restrictions on Iran, and this week, Apple announced that it would begin selling devices to customers who plan to bring them to Iran. The embargo remains in effect against Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, according to Apple’s website.

The U.S. government explained its decision as a way to help protesters spread information. “There’s been an increasing trend in their efforts in new and ever-more-complex and villainous ways to crack down on the free flow of information using sophisticated methods, and this is a response to their efforts,” a senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal.

It’s not as if Iranians aren’t already pretty wired. Iran is the Middle East’s largest cellphone market with a mobile penetration rate over 100 percent. Smartphone penetration is over 20 percent - low compared with the Gulf States, but not by global standards. As of 2009, 38 percent of the country’s population was on the Internet and the country boasts one of the most active blogospheres in the world despite the government’s increasingly draconian censorship efforts.

So I’m not sure that the introduction of iPhones and or MacBooks is really going to tip the political balance in the Islamic Republic, but it’s not as if the embargo was really helping either. How about Cuba, next?

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