Ahwazi: Rejecting Tehran’s Claims of Sectarianism
The British Ahwazi Friendship Society notes that the Islamic Republic’s claims of sectarianism are just another thinly veiled attempt to hide glaring inequities within Iran
Ignorance of the Ahwazi Arabs has encouraged some journalists, governments as well international human rights organizations to portray their struggle as a sectarian conflict between the Shiite state and the Sunni Arabs.
Approximately ninety percent of the Ahwazi Arab population in the southwest of Iran (Khuzestan) is Shiite, a fact pointed out by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS). Ahwazi Arab culture is lacking a religious sectarianism and is instead based around tribal associations that are often mixed Shia and Sunni.
The Sunni Arab population is traditionally concentrated around the Shatt al-Arab. As a part of the rejection of the regime’s ideology a small number of Ahwazi Arabs have converted to Sunnism and Christianity. Most Arabs continue to follow Shiite beliefs, while rejecting Khomeinism as a heresy created to justify political oppression and ethnic persecution.
The Ahwazi Arab struggle is a struggle against social, economic, cultural marginalization and persecution; it has nothing to do with the religion. The misunderstanding is the result of a campaign of disinformation by both the Iranian regime and some opposition groups who want to deny the problem of ethnic persecution in Iran in order to advance their political agendas.
The regime has vilified and dismissed the Ahwazi struggle as a Wahabbist insurgency. This is intended to demonize Ahwazi resistance as akin to Al-Qaeda, even though it is devoid of any religious ideology. Meanwhile, certain opposition groups and individuals are keen to play down cultural activism - particularly among Arabs - to control the political agenda. These wealthy opposition groups, controlled by middle-class chauvinist nationalists, have unfortunately had high-level access to the media and government, thereby distorting the real cause of the Ahwazi Arab uprising.
At an international level, Kurds and Balochis have worked closely with Shiite-majority ethnic groups such as Ahwazi Arabs and Azeri Turks to highlight the problem of ethnic persecution in Iran. Religion has not been a barrier to mutual co-operation and solidarity since few want to live under theocratic rule, either Shiite or Sunni. Ethnic rights activists seek to work with Iranians of all religions, ethnicities and ideologies to create a free society with fair elections and a political system in which they can live without intimidation and with respect. Misinformation can only create division.