Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
IF you are unaware that millions of Arabs subsist in miserable conditions in Iran, you can be forgiven. The shameful fact is that their plight goes under the Arab world’s radar, and is rarely highlighted by either the Western or Arab media.
These are the forgotten Ahwazis of Arabistan, a region that was once under the dominion of the Ummayid and Abbasid caliphs. In 1925, it was annexed by the oil-hungry Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had its Arab ruler Sheikh Khaz’al of Muhammerah placed under arrest until his death.
As if life under the Pahlavi dynasty was not hard enough for the children of Arabistan, Iran tramples on every facet of their human rights, forces them to live in abject poverty and tries to obliterate their Arab identity. Many are in crisis mode, unable to care for their families. Some 81 percent of youths are unemployed because relocated Persians are given priority. They are beginning to lose all hope.
Last month alone, a young Ahwazi husband and father was seen on YouTube setting himself alight before dying in hospital. At least four other family men chose to hang themselves to escape Iran’s persecution and ethno-religious discrimination.
Moreover, their environment is being ruined by the bad practices of oil and chemical companies, resulting in desertification of farmland, polluted rivers, dead birds and fish, and a heightened prevalence of breathing difficulties. Whenever they come together to vent their legitimate frustrations, the regime cracks down even harder, arresting and often torturing demonstrators.
Despite all odds, these virtual prisoners on the soil that bore their ancestors are genuine Arab patriots — barring a small, disruptive minority of communists and those with allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood — who view their communities as the first line of defense against Iranian expansion, and as a buffer between Tehran and Gulf Arab states. No banning of their language, traditional clothing or names has succeeded in casting a shadow over their Arab minds and souls.
There was little differential made between Arab Sunnis and Shiites before the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini constructed a Shiite underclass mirage to serve his own ends. Iranians have been conned into believing that Sunnis and Arabs are their natural enemies, and that the ruling mullahs are the defenders of Shiism.
Iran only stands up for Shiites when it suits its economic interests or core agendas: Disseminating its medieval ideology and converting Arab countries into puppet states, with the ultimate goal of controlling Islam’s holiest sites.
A recent example of Tehran’s perfidiousness was during the conflict that erupted in April 2016 between overwhelmingly Shiite Azerbaijan and predominately Christian Armenia. Iran, which has long objected to Western oil giants operating on the Caspian shelf, adopted a pro-Armenia position.
The Ahwazi people of Khuzestan are impoverished and persecuted by the Tehran regime, and it is time their cause was taken up by the Arab world.
Iran’s support of the Palestinian cause is another facade designed to win over gullible Arab nationalists. Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is quoted as saying: “We have benefited from this process in presenting the Palestinian issue, which was forgotten, and we were able, through this process, to find new relations with the outside world and develop them.”
It is an inescapable irony that despite the high horse with respect to Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, Iran’s behavior toward its own Arab citizens mirrors that of the country it terms “The Little Satan.”
The Ahwazis have brave hearts and strong voices that are not being heard because they lack support, not only from the international community but also from the Arab world. Just like the Palestinians they seek an independent state, but they know that cannot be realized overnight.
In the meantime, they long for moral and diplomatic support from their Arab brethren, which until today has not been forthcoming. Specifically, they seek recognition by the Arab League in the form of a seat on the basis of associate or observer-state status.
I have been pushing hard for that for some time, but it seems there are two objecting states. No prize for guessing which. They are the two that have been enchained and stripped of their national dignity by Iranian surrogate leaderships. Put simply, the Arab League is being indirectly led by a long and obstructive Persian nose. That sorry state of affairs should be acknowledged and rectified with a rule change allowing for, say, an 80 percent majority to carry resolutions.
Ahwazis have been let down time and time again, and were stabbed in the back by the political-militant organization Mujahedin-e Khalq, which purported to be their ally against Tehran. Their situation has been discussed in Britain’s House of Commons, attended by representatives of the UK Foreign Office, the US Embassy, human rights groups and parliamentarians, but no action has been taken.
Ahwazis are firmly with us. Young Ahwazi poet Ahmed Sabhan wrote heartfelt lines to Saudi King Salman glorifying his leadership in liberating Yemen from “Houthis of darkness,” before he and his wife were arrested and tortured. In light of a disinterested community of nations and a shackled Arab League, I address my appeal to two compassionate Arab lions: King Salman and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Let us prove to these long-suffering people that they are not alone. Let us take up their banner and work for their cause. Let it ring loudly through the UN and be projected via Arab media. Let us shout from the rooftops that we are all proud members of one Arab nation that refuses to forget the loyal Ahwazis of Arabistan.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.
—Courtesy: Arab News