In April 2005, the province of [Arabistan Al Ahwaz] (Khuzestan) home to most of Ahwazi Arabs witnessed widespread protests, this time centring on a leaked secret letter allegedly written by former Vice President Mohammad Abtahi. The letter briefly outlined a policy to radically alter the province’s demographic makeup by moving Arabs (especially those with higher education) to other parts of the country, whilst moving non-Arabs into the region, the end in mind being a reduction of the province’s Arab population to a third of what it was in 2005.
The authenticity of the letter was never proven and Abtahi and the Khatami administration (1997–2005) adamantly denied authorship. Apocryphal or otherwise, the letter led Ahwazi Arabs to mobilize and give voice to long-held grievances against the state, in much the same way Azeris would a year later.
When the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing visited Iran in 2005, he reported that in Ahwaz thousands of people [were] living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections’, despite the fact that the province has been the cornerstone of Iran’s massive oil wealth for more than a century. That [Arabistan Al Ahwaz] furnishes much of Iran’s wealth but receives very little of it for local development has been the single greatest source of grievance amongst Ahwazi Arabs.
This antagonism is only further enflamed by large government development projects (like the Dehkhoda sugar cane plantation) that have uprooted and displaced upwards of 200,000 to 250,000 Arabs, with compensation for confiscated land being as little as one-fortieth of market value.Perhaps more troubling is that the government does not offer jobs in these projects to local Arabs. Instead, it prefers to plan and build new cities like Shirinshahr for non-Arabs brought to the province from places including Yazd in central Iran, an initiative with obvious implications for Abtahi’s abovementioned denial.
In February 2006, Amnesty International reported that government-directed migration of non-Arabs into Khuzestan is linked to economic policies that offer zero per cent interest loans to migrants, but not to Arabs.
[Arabistan Al Ahwaz] is also beset by other problems resulting from a century of deliberate neglect and underdevelopment: higher illiteracy, lower life expectancy and higher unemployment rates than the rest of country are just three examples. In regard to economic inequality, [Arabistan Al Ahwaz] (Khuzestan) is only outdone by Sistan-Baluchistan, another province where ethnic minorities constitute the bulk of the population, where unverifiable reports put 76 per cent of the population below the poverty line, in stark contrast to the national rate of 18 per cent.
Source: Minority Rights Group International