Ahwazi: Ahmedinejad Fails to Deliver on Indigenous Arab Problem
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's four-day visit to Khuzestan last week was billed as a chance to listen to the province’s largely Arab population. Instead, it turned out to be a long lecture on foreign policy with little attempt to address the causes of ethnic unrest in the province.
Ahmadinejad's series of rallies were more notable for what he did not say rather than what he did say. There was the usual litany of anti-Western slogans, the defiance of the UN Security Council's censure of
There were signs that the audience wanted to hear more about more fundamental issues. Hand-written placards were held up indicating that a massive presence of Bassij paramilitaries had not completely suppressed dissent. One read "Inflation, unemployment, insecurity, drug addiction have desiccated the tree of the revolution" and another said "Oil and gas are our rights. Eliminate youth unemployment."
For most Ahwazis, industrial development has not led to a significant increase in living standards.
Situated in south-western
Economic inequality is underpinned by racial discrimination and state terrorism. In its first assessment of the Ahmadinejad administration's human rights record, Amnesty International pointed out that Arabs have been "denied state employment under the gozinesh criteria." The report adds that "hundreds of Arabs have been arrested since President Ahmadinejad's election and many are feared to have been tortured or ill-treated. The prisons in Khuzestan province, and particularly the capital
One of the main issues is land expropriation, which Amnesty says is "so widespread that it appears to amount to a policy aimed at dispossessing Arabs of their traditional lands. This is apparently part of a strategy aimed at the forcible relocation of Arabs to other areas while facilitating the transfer of non-Arabs into Khuzestan and is linked to economic policies such as zero interest loans which are not available to local Arabs." Members of the European Parliament have described it as ethnic cleansing on a par with
The problem of land confiscation predates Ahmadinejad's appointment as president. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari appeared to be incredulous at the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs. In an interview following his visit to Iran in July 2005: "...when you visit Ahwaz there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections ... why is that? Why have certain groups not benefited? ... Again in Khuzestan, ... we drove outside the city about 20 km and we visited the areas where large development projects are coming up - sugar cane plantations and other projects along the river - and the estimate we received is that between 200,000-250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages because of these projects. And the question that comes up in my mind is, why is it that these projects are placed directly on the lands that have been homes for these people for generations?"
The Iranian intelligentsia is already warning that failure to deal with the crisis in Khuzestan threatens to turn it from a provincial problem into a regional geopolitical issue. In a recent letter to the Chief of the Judiciary Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi appealing for clemency for a number of Ahwazis sentenced to death, writer and human rights advocate Emad Baghi wrote that "this kind of ethnic issue is rooted in the poverty, socio-economic deprivation and accumulated repressed complexes abused and exploited by foreign forces. It is only through the pursuit and implementation of justice that ethnic concerns can be addressed and external manipulation neutralized." He urged Shahroudi to end the mass execution of Ahwazis "to avoid costly mistakes not only in relation to the taking of precious human lives but also because of the real potential for heightening and injuring ethnic sensibilities." Yet the regime does not appear to be listening to Baghi's words of wisdom. Instead, Baghi has been repeatedly detained for criticising government policy.