Ahwazi Arabs: Development Projects, Minorities, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and State Failure
After the 1979 revolution, the Al Ahwaz region has seen an increasingly presence of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), accompanied by a major shift in the economy, in which the IRGC has enlarged and diversified its presence in many sectors of the economy, owning or being affiliated to companies in trades as drugs, petroleum, food, cinema, banking and financial services. Moreover, the IRGC is involved in one sector central to Iranian development policies: the construction of dams. In this regard, one-third of the 339 dams constructed in Iran since the raise of the Islamic Republic are located on the Karum River that crosses the Ahwaz Region, as the Gotvand dam, which has brought severe environmental damages to the region. In addition to its vast water resources, the area is Iran’s economic backbone largely due to its oil wealth. But in spite of this, the local Arab people hardly benefit from the profits of this wealth, and the region is further subjected to pollution, water shortages, and other environmental hazards.While the Ahwazi have previously mainly engaged in peaceful protests in face of racial discrimination and lack of water, the attack from 22 September 2018 has further put their security at risk in addition to the several violations faced by them in name of infrastructure and development projects. UNPO condemns Iranian state administration. Their mismanagement has allowed the IRGC to have such a large presence and power in regions where the minorities reside, and over the people who live in those areas, who endure the discrimination, marginalization and violation of their rights both through direct use of force or indirectly through development programs.
The article below was published by Al Arabiya:
In the years following the 1979 revolution, there was a major shift in the economy, and Iran witnessed a gradual and extensive presence of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC ) in this area.
This paramilitary institution began its economic foray after the end of the Iran-Iraq war and today it is responsible for a third of Iran’s GDP. Given the economic crisis that has occurred in recent months in Iran, the role of this institution in triggering mass protests against IRGC policies both domestically and abroad is undeniable.
Economic monopoly to the extent that no other private entity can compete, the massive $50 million embezzlement in the “Sepanir company”, affiliated with IRGC, and the involvement of “The Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution”, the financial sponsor of IRGC, in the embezzlement of 123 billion Tomans in the 1990’s is among the major financial crimes of this institution.
According to Iranian government sources, IRGC has taken up some 11,000 small-scale development projects, it has 812 registered companies and has signed 1,700 contracts for government development projects. Companies owned or affiliated with IRGC are involved in trades such as importing drugs, petroleum, food to the cinema, banking and financial services.
IRGC’s involvement in the economy forced Ali Khamenei, who has been the focus of street protests by citizens, to ask the Revolutionary Guards Corps to “cease involvement in the trades that are unrelated to their activities”.
Although Iranian officials repeatedly boast about development in dam construction and present it as one of the most important achievements and symbols of self-sufficiency and prosperity, however, dam projects fall under the “unrelated trade activities” of IRGC.
The Gotvand dam is a notorious example. It is the biggest dam on the Karun River and was built near a salt mine, against the advice of experts. Currently, there are 9 million tonnes of salt built up in the bottom of the dam's reservoir which has increased water salinity and severely affected water quality for agricultural use and drinking of locals in Ahwaz.
Out of 339 dams that were built since the inception of Islamic Republic, one-thrid of those and several tunnels were built on Karun river to transfer water from Ahwaz into a central plateau for agriculture and steel industries which are also owned by IRGC-affiliated companies.
In addition to water, Ahwaz is Iran’s economic backbone. With more than 80 petrochemical and industrial companies, it is one of the most polluted and underdeveloped regions in Iran.
The local Arabs are denied employment in the development projects as every contracting company import workforce from other areas. Hence the project not only has not brought bread on the table of Arab citizens of Iran but has resulted in mass poverty, spread discrimination and has destroyed the livelihood of indigenous Arab farmers and fishermen who prior to the presence of IRGC could make ends meet.
Prior to the September 22  attack on IRGC military parade, the name of Ahwaz was circulated in the media over legitimate grievances and peaceful protests against water shortage and racial discrimination against the Arab population.
But by controlling the flow of information, the Revolutionary Guards managed to introduce the plight of Ahwazi people in the framework of a fundamentalist armed movement and not legitimate demands that have been accumulated to the point of explosion.
Days after the attack, a video was circulated on social media of an Ahwazi woman addressing an official who reassures her that they will take revenge for this attack while the woman in response states “our water and oil was taken away, and now our security.” She then invites the officer to visit the notorious slums of Ahwaz such as Ein-do, Malashieh and Manb’a, adding that the young gunmen who carried out the attacks did so due to desperation and marginalization.
According to local human right organizations, 300 Ahwazi Arab men were arrested in relation to this attack.
While the foreign arm of IRGC, Qods Force, under the command of Ghasem Soleimani, carries out missions in Syria and Iraq that destabilises the region and results in forced migration of millions out of their homes, domestically the same agenda is repeated in the south-west of country but under the name of development projects.
In fact, it can be said that the Revolutionary Guards, both inside and outside the country, have been using its force in two ways - either through weapons or under the name of developmental projects and infrastructure.
In countries like Lebanon and Iraq, reconstruction and development projects only include areas inhabited by the sectarian groups that support the policies of the Islamic Republic, while the rest of the public in Lebanon and Iraq cannot benefit from these projects.
And ultimately it creates a gap between the peoples of these countries. The same gap exists and widens in different regions of Iran.
The development gap between the central regions of Iran and the border regions has become so wide that it has actually led to a unhealthy competition between different provinces over access to natural resources (the transfer of Karun river in Ahwaz to the central plateau).
Mismanagement, which has been the result of the narrow security and ideological outlook of IRGC toward border regions, where the minorities reside, ultimately leads to internal unrest and the collapse of the state.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons