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05 January 2007

Anger among Iran's Arabs

Ethnic unrest is a problem throughout Iran and the regime traditionally attributes this to foreign agitation. The state has responded to bombings and demonstrations in southwestern Khuzestan province, which is home to ethnic Arabs, with public executions, televised confessions and repression. However, most Iranian Arabs seek their constitutionally guaranteed rights and do not have a separatist agenda.

Iranian officials frequently mention purported foreign efforts to dismember the state and refer to minority activists as the instruments of such plans. 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. Claims by Western journalists notwithstanding, therefore, it is clear that there is more to the ethnic unrest than foreign agitation.

On the one hand, Arabs' grievances are very similar to those of other disgruntled Iranian minorities, such as Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen. Specifically, they call for greater representation in the central government and decry what they perceive as the Persian-centric government's inattention to and disrespect for ethno-cultural differences.

On the other hand, economic matters are a particular grievance for the Arabs, who claim that although Khuzestan provides a great deal of oil, it sees little of the money. The Arab minority has also complained of forcible relocations for agricultural-business projects. Mass demonstrations in April 2005 were triggered by reports on Al-Jazeera television that the executive branch planned to relocate the Arabs and replace them with ethnic Persians.

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© 2006 Jane's Information Group
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