TROUBLE ALONG IRAQ BORDER
- Last Updated: 5:00 AM, September 6, 2007
- Posted: 5:00 AM, September 6, 2007
IS the Islamic Republic facing a growing revolt by Iran's Arab minority?
Until a couple of years ago, the question would have sounded naive. In the '80s, Arab-Iranians fought bravely against Saddam Hussein's forces, even though they were linked to the invading Iraqis by ethnic, tribal, linguistic and religious ties going back 1,300 years. Data from the Foundation for the Martyrs (which is supposed to look after war veterans and families of the war dead) show that the number of Arab-Iranians who died for the fatherland was proportionally four times higher than Iranians from other ethnic backgrounds.
In the last two years, however, evidence has mounted that Arab-Iranians - disenchanted by the Islamic Republic and angry at Tehran's increasingly repressive policies under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - are being drawn toward dissidence and revolt:
* Last year, rising tension in a number of towns and villages forced Ahmadinejad to cancel a much-publicized visit to the southwestern province of Khuzestan. (He later managed a shortened version of the trip, amid tight security.)
* In the last few weeks, the authorities have executed 11 men in connection with the nascent Arab revolt. Hundreds more have been arrested and shipped to jails in unknown destinations.
* Last month, bands of Arab youths ran riot in the streets of Ahvaz (Khuzestan's capital), attacking government offices and banks and setting official cars on fire. Eyewitnesses say the authorities had to bring in special Baseej (Mobilization) militia units to regain control.
The pro-government militia later raided several neighborhoods where ethnic Arabs form a majority, arresting dozens. Among them was Thamer Ahvazi, a top pop star. His crime? Singing "defiant" rap-style songs in Arabic.
The best estimates put the number of ethnic Arabs in Iran at about 2.2 million, or more than 3 percent of the population. More than half live in Khuzestan, a province that produces almost 70 percent of the oil that Iran exports each day.
But in recent decades, the province's mainly Arab feature has changed for several reasons.
First, the discovery of oil in 1908 led to a boom that created job opportunities that the locals couldn't fulfill. Hundreds of thousands from the Iranian heartland poured into Khuzestan, first as temporary laborers and then as permanent residents.
Second, a government policy, formulated in 1928, seeks to "Persianize" majority-Arab areas by bringing farmers from distant provinces. The newcomers revived the province's moribund agriculture, introduced new crops and, as they prospered, multiplied faster than native Arabs who remained largely excluded from the new economy.Follow @NYPostOpinion