During his presidential campaign, Iran’s incumbent president Hassan Rouhani asserted, “We don’t have second-class citizens. All peoples in Iran, regardless of their race and religion, are equal.”
For the people of Al-Ahwaz in south and southwest Iran, as for the country’s other oppressed minorities, this was just one more offensive and barefaced lie in a very long line of Iranian regime lies.
The systemic abuse of political, cultural and civil rights for Arab people in Al-Ahwaz by the Iranian regime covers all areas, with the economy being, for the regime, one more tool which it can use to oppress the Ahwazi people.
According to Glen G. Cain’s ‘The Economics of Discrimination: Part 1’, there are two broad definitions of economic discrimination. According to the first definition, economic discrimination can be defined as long-lasting inequality in terms of economic well-being among individuals based on their color, gender, or ethnic ties. According to the second definition, economic discrimination is defined as differences in pay or wage rates for equally productive groups.
In 1957, an enormous amount of literature began to appear exploring different aspects of economic discrimination. Another book published in the same year as Cain’s by Gary S. Becker, entitled ‘The Economics of Discrimination’, studied the theoretical and practical aspects of this hidden phenomenon.
Even a quick glance at the economic situation for Ahwazi peoples leads to the conclusion that the government is subjecting them to very clear and observable systematic economics discrimination. Since 1925, the Ahwazi people have lived under the heel of successively more brutal and nakedly racist Iranian regimes and been subject to supremacist rule and ethnic cleansing and supremacism, with each instituting policies which aim via various strategies to eradicate Ahwazis’ Arab identity and replace it with a Persian one.
For the regime, keeping Ahwazis in poverty and economic powerlessness prevents them from attaining a collective consciousness or awareness of their own oppressed state, making it easier to continue the oppression.
Like all supremacist states through history, Iran has used the tool of economic oppression in tandem with racial oppression, with economic studies showing that successive regimes have maintained a calculatingly designed poverty in all aspects of Ahwazi Arabs’ lives, despite the massive natural resources and mineral wealth in Ahwaz, demonstrating the extensive use of economic discrimination against the people.
According to human rights organizations, Ahwazis’ employment conditions are cruel and ruthless, with employers banned from recruiting the indigenous Arab people to work in regional industries. Employers are often forbidden from publishing job vacancies in local media to prevent Arab job seekers from applying. Those who do manage to apply for jobs face the near-impossible obstacle of the ‘Goozinesh’ or ‘Selection System’, a constitutionally mandated law reminiscent of South African apartheid under which candidates can be selected or rejected based on their race, mother tongue, ideas and doctrinal creed.
As a result of this discriminatory system, Ahwaz has the second highest unemployment rate in Iran, despite having a sizeable industrial and manufacturing sector, with workers brought to the region by promises of subsidized housing in ethnically homogenous settlements which are provided with amenities not available to Ahwazi people. This is one way in which the regime attempts to change the demographic balance in Ahwaz in favour of non-Arab peoples.
Indeed, Iran has implemented industrial and manufacturing projects in Ahwaz and brought in non-Arab workers specifically as a means of displacing the indigenous people and eradicating or diluting the region’s Arab identity as part of this demographic change project, with many such projects implemented under both the Pahlavi and the ‘Islamic Republic’ regimes.
One of the most dangerous anti-Arab economic projects which was studied by the Pahlavi regime before being implemented by the Islamic Republic is the sugarcane growing and refining industry, which saw the regime seize massive swathes of land, forcibly dispossessing thousands of farmers and other residents, to use the land for growing sugarcane, with the regime also building massive refineries to refine it. Those protesting against being driven from their lands were and still are imprisoned.
The regime seized over 100,000 hectares (almost 25 million acres) of densely populated richly fertile agricultural land on both sides of the Karoon River for its sugarcane project, stretching from the far north of the region to Mohammareh city in the far south. Thousands of Ahwazi families were made destitute overnight, driven from their lands without any right or hope of compensation, while the regime razed their villages and built large settlements for workers it brought in from other regions to work in the sugarcane industry, with these new settlements provided with all the amenities denied to the Ahwazi people.
These sorts of projects in Al-Ahwaz are part of the core project of the Iranian regime, which can be summarized as geographical transformation via an economic weapon.
The petroleum industry is another of the primary economic tools used against the Ahwazi people, with the regime exploiting Ahwazis’ own natural resources against them and denying them from any share of the massive wealth accrued. Despite the fact that over 90 percent of the oil and gas wealth claimed by Iran is in Ahwaz, strict laws ensure that Ahwazis are denied any jobs in this sector, with large numbers of non-Arab workers again brought in from other areas of Iran to live in settlements where Arabs are forbidden from living. The environmental devastation from the oil industry adds insult to injury, with Ahwaz winning the unenviable accolade of the World’s Most Polluted City in 2011 and 2012, and never far from the top spot before then or since.
Another economic and environmental tool used against the Ahwazi peoples is the damming of the region’s once bounteous rivers and their diversion to non-Arab areas. Despite Iran’s own economic experts repeatedly calling these projects irrational and useless, the regime’s political objectives in implementing them means that they are considered red lines which nobody can question.
Ahwazis react to the regime’s policies of disenfranchisement and systemic injustice in different ways. With over half of the people living under the internationally accepted poverty line of $1 per day, some head abroad seeking work. Increasingly, for a worrying amount of young people, the grinding poverty, disempowerment and systemic injustice mean that taking their own lives is the only escape route they can see. High prices for staple foods are putting, even more, pressure on already oppressed peoples, with suicide rates rising steadily in recent months.
Malnutrition is standard, with many having inadequate funds to buy even the most basic foodstuffs. In the cities of Abadan and Mohammareh and the surrounding areas, for example, over 80 percent of the Arab population is living on $1.25 per day or less, with many going hungry.
In conclusion, successive Iranian regimes’ abuse of economics and straightforward racist supremacism is a form of slow genocide, with an entire people being silently ethnically cleansed and replaced with another.
The projects implemented by Tehran in the Ahwaz region very deliberately provide no benefits for its people, being simply more instruments to ethnically cleanse the Ahwazi people and bring in more non-Arabs to change the demographic structure and keep the Arab people powerless and destitute in what could be termed ‘planned poverty.’
By Ali Badri