Politics of Khuzestan Province
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- 1 Background
- 2 Prominent Khuzestani politicians
- 3 Local grievances
- 4 Foreign influence
- 5 Arab politics and separatism
- 6 Media
- 7 Election results
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Khuzestan is inhabited by many different ethnic groups, the population of Khuzestan consists of Lurs (including Bakhtiari people), Iranian Arabs, Qashqai people, Afshar tribe, indigenous Persians and Armenians. Half of Khuzestan is mostly inhabited by Arabs, the other half of Khuzestan is mostly inhabited by Luri people. Khuzestan's ethnic diversity has a bearing on Khuzestan's electoral politics, with ethnic minority rights playing a significant role in the province's political culture. The province's geographical location bordering Iraq and its oil resources also make it a politically sensitive region, particularly given its history of foreign intervention, notably the Iraqi invasion of 1980. At the same time, there are ethnic grievances among the province's population, mostly from some Arab groups.
Some ethnic groups complain over the distribution of the revenue generated by oil resources with claims that the central government is failing to invest profits from the oil industry in employment generation, post-war reconstruction and welfare projects. Low human development indicators among local Khuzestanis are contrasted with the wealth generation of the local oil industry. Minority rights are frequently identified with strategic concerns, with ethnic unrest perceived by the Iranian government as being generated by foreign governments to undermine the country's oil industry and its internal stability. The politics of Khuzestan therefore have international significance and go beyond the realm of electoral politics.
According to Jane's Information Group, "Most Iranian Arabs seek their constitutionally guaranteed rights and do not have a separatist agenda ... While it may be true that some Arab activists are separatists, most see themselves as Iranians first and declare their commitment to the state's territorial integrity."
Prominent Khuzestani politicians
Khuzestan has produced many prominent politicians. Iran's current Minister of Agriculture Mohammad Reza Eskandari, Mohsen Rezaee (secretary of Iran's powerful Expediency Discernment Council) and some parliamentary committee chairs have been from Khuzestan.
The Iraqi-born Ayatollah Mohsen Araki served as a Khuzestan representative in the Assembly of Experts, was the personal representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the Supreme Leader of Iran) in London and headed the Islamic Centre of England until 2004.
Endemic poverty in Khuzestan is contrasted with the wealth generated by the province, particularly from oil, petrochemicals and agriculture. This poverty, however, is a fact of life throughout Iran for all ethnic groups.
Khuzestan is inhabited by many different ethnic groups, the population of Khuzestan consists of Lurs (including Bakhtiari people), Iranian Arabs, Qashqai people, Afshar tribe, indigenous Persians and Armenians. Half of Khuzestan is inhabited by Arabs, the other half of Khuzestan is inhabited by Luri people. Iranian Arabs in particular have experienced racial discrimination. The CIA World Factbook estimates that approximately 1% of Iran's population are Arabic-speakers, with 1% speaking Arabic as their native or primary language. Articles 15, 19 and 48 of the Iranian Constitution establish the basis for ethnic, linguistic and cultural minority rights in the fields of education, employment and the distribution of resources. However, human rights groups have claimed that Iranian minorities often face discrimination and estrictions on social, cultural, linguistic and religious freedoms (see Ethnic minorities in Iran). Minority issues are therefore a major feature of political debate in Khuzestan.
Khuzestan has been a focus of criticism by human rights groups. Amnesty International routinely raises human rights concerns relating to Khuzestan's Arabs through linking with separatists websites who provide information, in particular the arrest and detention of political activists, torture and executions. While Khuzestan is not unique in terms of its human rights record, Amnesty notes that often these abuses are related to institutional discrimination. In its report entitled New government fails to address dire human rights situation published in February 2006, Amnesty states:
Even where the majority of the local population is Arab, schools are reportedly not allowed to teach through the medium of Arabic; illiteracy rates are reportedly high, especially among Iranian Arab women in rural areas ... land expropriation by the Iranian authorities is reportedly 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.—
In 1997, Human Rights Watch reported that "Iranian Arabs, an ethnic minority centered in southwest Iran, have cited significant restrictions on their language and culture, and on their right to participate effectively in decisions affecting the area in which they live." According to another report in the same year, "Arabic is not taught in elementary schools, and the Arabic teaching in secondary schools focuses exclusively on religious texts. The governor of Khuzestan is not an Arab" while "Arabs make up 35-45 percent of the three million inhabitants of Khuzestan province in the southwest of Iran." In 2005, separatist groups claimed that there was "inadequate attention to their culture and language by state media, facing discrimination in getting jobs, unfair distribution of Khuzestan's oil wealth."
Joe Stork, the director of HRW's Middle East division, said: "The Iranian authorities have again displayed their readiness to silence those who denounce human rights violations. We have serious allegations the government used excessive lethal force, arbitrary arrests and torture in Khuzistan."
The claims made by human rights groups have been strongly contested by the Iranian government, which claims that efforts to disproportionately accentuate the problems in Khuzestan are being led by foreign media or political groups, particularly those based in the UK. The governor's office of Khuzestan claims the provincial GDP to rank 3rd in the nation, yet to what extent the local population benefits from these fruits remains unclear.
It is also contended[weasel words] that the rights of Iranian groups of Khuzestan, such as the nomadic Bakhtiari and Lur tribes, are often overlooked due to the publicity surrounding Khuzestani Arabs.
Alleged forced displacement
The problem was highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, following a visit to Khuzestan in July 2005. He claimed that industrial and agricultural development projects had displaced Arabs from their land, who received compensation that amounted to a fraction of the market value. He also claimed that new housing developments, such as the one new town in Shirinshah, were being created for non-Arab workers brought in from Yazd, while local people continued to suffer joblessness and poor housing.
Kothari also drew attention to the situation facing the Laks, who are an Iranian people indigenous to Khuzestan. He called them "... a very deprived group ... living in conditions of high density, again without access to adequate sanitation and water. And just nearby, you see other neighbourhoods with much better services."
Kothari's description of the position of the Laks suggests that economic marginalisation in Khuzestan is not only experienced by Khuzestani Arabs, but also other ethnic groups who are indigenous to the area.
Kothari's findings led to condemnation of forced displacement of Khuzestani Arabs in a European Parliament resolution, passed in October 2005. The resolution, sponsored by all the European Parliament's political groups,
condemns the treatment of minorities such as ... the inhabitants of the area around Ahwaz city, the provincial capital of the ethnic Arab dominated Khuzestan province, who are being displaced from their villages according to statements by Miloon Kothari, UN Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.—
The European Parliament unanimously passed a resolution in November 2006 which repeated its condemnation of forced displacement in Khuzestan, based on Kothari's findings.
Although the majority of the population of Khuzestan is Shia, there are other religious groups in the province. The 5-10,000 Mandeans, a unique religious group that is neither Muslim nor Christian, living in Khuzestan claim to have second-class status due to both Iranisation and Persianisation. Their places of worship have reportedly been closed down and their cemeteries. However, they lack any support group to lobby on their behalf and their plight is often overlooked by human rights organisations. Their small numbers also mean they are politically marginalised.
Some Iranian opposition parties operating abroad launched a campaign to stop the American Enterprise Institute hosting a conference entitled "The Unknown Iran: Another Case for Federalism?" in October 2005. A petition to stop the event attracted more than 1,000 signatures from members of the Iranian diaspora. Some added that the meeting indicated a new alliance between US neo-conservatives and Iranian separatists, ahead of a possible invasion of Iran by the US and its allies. Dr Ali Al-Taie, a member of the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz which upholds a federalist agenda for Iran, said at the debate: "When it comes to ethnic rights, Persian opposition groups are on the same side as the terrorist Islamic Republic. If this continues, we will see the Balkanization of Iran." But he added that: "Despite the long history of persecution, the Arabs of Khuzestan/al-Ahwaz are Iranian. There will never be, nor should there be, disintegration or separatism in Iran. Rather, all Iranian people, regardless of their ethnic background, should live under a pluralistic, tolerant, and federal society."
Arab politics and separatism 
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Iranian Khuzestan has been a troublesome province of Iran since the ascent of the Pahlavi rule in the 1920s. In the two decades prior to 1925, although nominally part of Persian territory, the western area functioned for many years effectively as an autonomous emirate known as "Arabistan" or the "Emirate of Muhammerah" (the eastern part of the province was governed by Bakhtiari Khans). The emirate was dissolved by Reza Shah government in 1925, along with other autonomous regions of Persia, in a bid to centralize the state. In response Sheikh Khaz'al of Muhammerah initiated a rebellion, which was quickly crushed by the newly installed Pahlavy dynasty with minimal casualties. A low level conflict between the central Iranian government and the Arab nationalists of the province continued since.
The name Khuzistan came to be applied once again to the entire territory by 1936. Sporadic Arab insurgency in Khuzestan continued through the 1930s and emerged again in 1950s, but reduced in the final decade of Pahlavy rule (1970s).
With the change of regime, the 1979 Khuzestan uprising became one of the nation-wide uprisings, which erupted in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution. The unrest was fed by Arab demands for autonomy. The Arab uprising was effectively quelled by Iranian security forces, resulting in more than a hundred people on both sides killed combined.
There are a number of Iranian Arab political parties operating in exile, but no known political party representing other ethnic groups in Iranian Khuzestan. The ideology of Arab parties varies, although most are secular in their political outlook. Ideology, tactics, tribal loyalties and personal ambition have prevented these parties from forming a united front. Some advocate armed resistance, while others believe in non-violent action. Most refer to the entire province of Khuzestan as al-Ahwaz (which only refers to a region in the southwest portion) or Arabistan, although some define Arabistan as also including territory along the Persian Gulf coast to the Strait of Hormuz. Whether these views are popular or even accepted amongst most Iranian Arabs is uncertain. Khuzestan's deputy governor Rahim Fazilatpur claimed that the Arab Martyrs of Khuzestan, the Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front (AADPF) and the Ahwaz Arab Renaissance Party (AARP) were given support by the British and US governments to carry out the bomb attacks of June 2005.
The Arab political parties are divided into two camps: those seeking a separate state and those seeking regional autonomy within a federal Iran. Critics of these parties claim that separatism has no support among Arabs, pointing to the decision by many Iranian Arabs to defend Iran during the Iran–Iraq War. The support shown by Iranian Arabs may have been a result of the knowledge of Shiite Muslims in Saddam's Iraq. They also contend that separatism has always been instigated by foreign governments – particularly the British – to weaken Iran in order to control the country's natural resources and extend their influence over the Middle East. Many make no distinction between separatists and federalists, claiming that those seeking federalism have a separatist agenda and that the devolution of power to regional ethnic groups would lead to the break-up of Iran.
Islamic Reconciliation Party
The Islamic Reconciliation Party (Hezb al-Wefagh), also known as the Reconciliation Committee (Lejnat al-Wefagh), was the only known Arab group to have been tolerated by the Iranian government. Jasem Shadidzadeh Al-Tamimi was the party's secretary general. He was a member of the Sixth Majlis (2000–04), representing Ahwaz as a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, but was barred from standing for election in 2004. Following the unrest in Khuzestan in April 2005, Al-Tamimi wrote to the then President Khotami calling on him to remove the "wall of mistrust between the proud Iranian ethnicities, so that the infected wounds of the Arab people of Ahwaz may heal." He added that "our wishful thinking about reforms in Arab affairs by the Reformists has been only a mirage", indicating that he no longer had faith in the Participation Front. He listed a number of grievances, including:
- violence against Arab demonstrators by security forces
- land confiscation
- the destruction of Arab residential compounds
- the high level of drug abuse among Iranian Arabs, which he claims is rooted in poverty
- racial discrimination and the official view of Arabs as a security threat
- the government's failure to issue activity permits for the Islamic Wefagh Party and affiliated non-governmental organisations
He indicates that he opposes separatism and the ideology of "extreme Persian nationalism" he associates with the previous monarchist government. The Islamic Wefagh Party claims to have an "extensive" base of support in Khuzestan. The group was banned in November 2006 and labelled a "subversive organisation trying to unseat the current system by spreading racial hatred and provoking ethnic clashes." At the same time, three of its leading members were arrested.
Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front
The Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front (AADPF) is based in London and is led by Mahmud Ahmad Al-Ahwazi, aka Abu Bashar. The group calls for human rights and democracy for Iranian Arabs and believes that Al-Ahwaz was occupied by Iran in 1925. The ADPF has a number of activists in Iranian custody. Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Minster of Defense and Logistic Affairs of the Armed Forces, accused Mahmud Ahmad Al-Ahwazi of involvement in the April 2005 unrest, while simultaneously claiming that his group had "zero popularity" amongst Arabs in Khuzestan. The ADPF has also claimed it led what it calls an "intifada" in Khuzestan. Shamkhani also claimed that Mahmud Ahmad Al-Ahwazi was a former member of the SAVAK (the Shah's secret police) before the revolution who defected to Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War. It is not known how much, if any, of Shamkhani's claims are true.
Ahwaz Arab Renaissance Party
The AARP is another separatist group advocating armed resistance to the Iranian government. It was originally set up in the 1990s by the Syrian government, but has since moved its leadership to Canada. In April 2005, it claimed on a pro-Iraqi Ba'athist website that it had exploded a bomb on the Ahwaz-Tehran pipeline. It also claimed responsibility for the June 2005 bombings in Ahwaz City. Two other groups also separately claimed responsibility for the attacks. It is led by Sabah al-Musawi, a Canadian resident.
Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz
The Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz (DSPA), based in the US and the UK,claiming to represent the Iranian Arabs of Khuzestan. The DSPA's ideology is different from the separatists in that it explicitly rejects the use of violence and advocates what it calls "internal self-determination". It also limits its territorial focus on Khuzestan, making no stand on Arab-populated living outside the province.
The DSPA claims that Khuzestan has a historical Arab identity and this means that the province should be given autonomy within a federal political system, but it says it respects Iran's territorial integrity. To achieve its ends, it has formed a coalition with like-minded parties representing Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, Turkmen, Bakhtiaris and Lurs, some of which have been in armed conflict with the Iranian state. Formed in London in March 2005, the Congress of Iranian Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CINFI) brought together the DSPA, the Baluchistan United Front, Federal Democratic Movement of Azarbaijan, Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Baluchistan People's Party, Organization for Defense of the Rights of Turkmen People and Komalah, a militant Kurdish opposition party.
Ahwaz Liberation Organisation
The Ahwaz Liberation Organisation (ALO), based in Maastricht in the Netherlands, was formed out of the remnants of three Iraqi-backed groups – the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA), People's Front for Liberation of Arabistan (PFLA) and the Arab Front for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (AFLA). It is a secular pan-Arabist group seeking independence from Iran. The DRFLA was the most notorious, having been sponsored by Saddam Hussein.
It was founded after the newly installed Islamic government fired on Arab demonstrators in Khorramshahr, killing many of them. The DRFLA was behind the May 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege in London, taking a number of hostages in an effort to draw attention to its demands for the self-determination of the Arab population of Khuzestan. The British Special Air Service (SAS) stormed the building and freed the hostages.Fowzi Badavi Nejad,the only survivor of that group,had survived only because some of the embassy hostages had put themselves between him and the SAS soldiers.Some evidences indicated the Iraqi intelligence services had duped Nejad into taking part in the siege. The evidence showed that once he knew the true nature of the group's plans, he only continued because he feared that his family, who had fled from Iran to Iraq, would suffer if he tried to withdraw the last hostage.
The ALO's constituent groups operated as a mercenary force on behalf of Saddam's regime during the Iran–Iraq War, carrying out assassinations and attacking oil facilities. Bomb attacks on oil and power facilities have continued since the end of the Iraq War, although the ALO has not formally claimed responsibility. The ALO's leader, the self-styled "President of Al-Ahwaz" Faleh Abdallah Al-Mansouri, was living in exile in the Netherlands since 1989, shortly after the end of the Iran–Iraq War, gaining Dutch nationality. He declared himself to be the "President" of Al-Ahwaz, which he claims extends beyond Khuzestan, including much of the coast of Iran. However, during a visit to Syria in May 2006, he was arrested in Syria in May 2006 along with Iranian Arabs who were registered as refugees by the UNHCR. Although the Iranian government did not name the men who were taken into custody, officials said that the men arrested in Syria were Salafists who they accused of involvement in bomb attacks. However, the ALO's website makes no indication that it is motivated by a religious cause, but rather has stayed within the ideology of secular Arab nationalism.
The editor of Ahvaz's Persian language Hamsayeha newspaper, Mohammad Hezbawi (also known as Hezbaee Zadeh), was arrested in September 2005 but later released. The newspaper was banned by the Justice Department in February 2006 under clauses four and five of Article 6 of Iran's Press law.
Television broadcasting in Arabic language in Khuzestan is state-owned (e.g. Al Alam) as is the case in other parts of the country, but many inhabitants also watch foreign Arabic language satellite channels. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel was blamed by the Iranian government for its coverage of anti-government protests by Arabs in April 2005. It was also angered by Al-Jazeera's interview with a member of the separatist Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front (ADPF) who spoke of "80 years of Iranian occupation in Khuzestan". The International Federation of Journalists claimed the government was scapegoating the media for civil unrest in the province.
In recent years, Iranian Arab groups have attempted to broadcast to Khuzestan. However, their attempts have been frustrated partly due to satellite dish confiscation in Khuzestan. Different political factions have run short weekly or daily television broadcasts to Iran, but these have closed down.
Khuzestan has tended to elect reformists to power, particularly those campaigning on a pro-minorities platform. However, bomb attacks in the region have led to a polarisation of opinion, with some Khuzestan representatives such as Ahwaz City representative Nasser Soudani calling for hardline measures against Arab dissent, which the government believes is being encouraged by British spies.
|Candidates||Votes Khuzestan||% of votes Khuzestan||Votes Nationally||% of votes nationally|
|Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani||319,883||20.50||6,211,937||21.13|
|Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf||148,207||9.50||4,083,951||13.89|
|Total (national turnout 62.66%, Khuzestan turnout 56%)||1,563,000||100||29,400,857||100|
In the first round of the presidential election, Khuzestani voters favoured reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who is a strong critic of the Guardian Council, who only achieved third place nationally. Karroubi's share of the vote in Khuzestan was twice the national average. Former president Rafsanjani came second in Khuzestan, although he achieved the highest number of votes nationally, followed by conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was the overall winner of the second round of the presidential election.
Elections to Parliament
Shabib Jouijari won a by-election for the Ahvaz parliamentary seat in December 2006, with 17.9% of the 406,808 votes cast.
Elections to the Assembly of Experts
Khuzestan has six directly elected representatives in the 86-member Assembly of Experts, which is normally elected every eight years and has the power the select and supervise the Supreme Leader. The most recent elections were held in December 2006, with members appointed for 10 year terms
Summary of the December 2006 Iranian Assembly of Experts election results for Khuzestan province
|Representative||Votes||% of electorate|
|Sayad Mohammad Ali Mosawi*||640,943||40.6|
|Abbas Ka'abi Nasab*||498,218||31.6|
|Sayad Ali Shafiee*||457,399||29.0|
|Mohammed Hussein Ahmadi||349,825||22.2|
|Mohsen Haydari al-Kasiri||332,601||21.1|
|Total (Khuzestan turnout 54%)||1,578,237||n/a|
|Note: percentages do not add up to 100% as voters are given more than one vote|
|* = members who have been re-elected|
|Sayed Mehdi Albu Shokeh||32,293|
|Sayed Reza Falahi Moghadam||32,176|
|Sayed Mohammed Hassan Zadeh||26,269|
|Gholam Reza Sabze Ali||3,588|
The 2006 Ahwaz City elections were won by reformist and conservative candidates. The previous elections to the municipality were won by the Reconciliation Committee (Lejnat Al-Wefaq), which won all but one of the seats. It appealed to the city's Arab population and their grievances. However, it was barred from registering and was outlawed by the government, which alleged that it was a threat to national security. Candidates for the 2006 elections were subject to a heavy vetting procedure before they were allowed to stand.
- Province of Khuzestan
- Languages of Khuzestan
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- Tarikh-e Pahnsad Saal-e Khuzestan (Five Hundred Year History of Khuzestan) by Ahmad Kasravi
- Jang-e Iran va Britannia dar Muhammereh (The Iran-British War in Muhammereh) by Ahmad Kasravi
- Tarikh-e Bist Saal-e Iran (Twenty Year History of Iran) by Hossein Maki (Tehran, 1945–47)
- Hayat-e Yahya (The Life of Yahya) by Yahya Dolatabadi (Tehran, 1948–52)
- Tarikh-e Ejtemai va Edari Doreieh Qajarieh (The Administrative and Social History of the Qajar Era) by Abdollah Mostofi (Tehran, 1945–49) ISBN 1-56859-041-5 (for the English translation)
- Mosha'sha'iyan, by Muhammad Ali Ranjbar. ISBN 964-329-068-9
- Democracy, Ethnicity and Repression in Iran: The Plight of the Ahwazi Arabs – by Daniel Brett, Henry Jackson Society
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- Amnesty International Maastricht: "We want to see Al-Mansouri", by Danya Chaikel, Crossroads, 8 December 2006
- Khuzestan: The First Front in the War on Iran? by Zoltan Grossman
Arab political groups
- ALO "Ahwaz Liberation Organisation" – ARC "Al-Ahwaz Revolutionary Council"
- Ahwaz Studies Center
- British Ahwazi Friendship Society – Advocacy group for Iran's Arab minority
- Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz
- Ahwaz Media
- Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front
- Ahwazi Arab Renaissance Party (Hizb al-Nahda al-Arabi al-Ahwazi) (in Arabic)