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Regime moves to prevent Arab representation on Assembly of Experts

The Governor of Khuzestan (Ahwaz) has appointed only non-Arabs to the committee overseeing the elections of the Arab-majority province's representatives on Iran's Assembly of Experts (Khobregan).

Twelve people were appointed to the committee by the controversial hardline Governor, Amir Hayat Moqaddam, who is an ally of President Mahmoud and a former Revolutionary Guards commander. The appointments included representatives of the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance and the intelligence and security agencies as well as the provincial attorney general and the head of the electoral registration office.

The Assembly of Experts is a congressional body of 86 Ayatollahs which selects the Supreme Leader (Valiye-Faqih) and supervises his activities. It is elected every eight years with the next election due in December. Khuzestan province, called Al-Ahwaz by its Arab population, elects six representatives to the Assembly of Experts.

Khuzestan's representatives on the Assembly of Experts have been involved in missionary activities in the UK through the Islamic Centre of England, which promotes Iran's brand of religious extremism among Muslims in the West. The current ICE director is Abdolhossein Moezi, a Khuzestan representative on the Assembly of Experts, who is also a trustee of the controversial Irshad Trust (click here for more information). He took over from Mohsen Araki, another Khuzestan representative on the Assembly of Experts, as Khamenei's personal representative in London. The religious extremism of Khuzestan's members on the Assembly of Experts is not representative of the Ahwazi Arab culture, which does not share the regime's hostility to the West.

The regime is keen to prevent Ahwazi Arabs from standing for election to the Assembly of Experts due to the growth of. In February 2003, the Wefagh party, an Arab ultra-reformist group, won all but one of the seats on the Ahwaz City Council in elections that were relatively fair. The Wefagh (Harmony) party has since been banned, its secretary general was barred from seeking re-election to parliament in 2004 and a number of party activists were imprisoned. The crushing of Wefagh ended Ahwazi Arab hopes of securing their rights through constitutional means, leading to an upsurge in anti-regime activism in Ahwaz.

The appointments to the election committee, which vets candidates and controls election procedures, appear to be an attempt by the regime to ensure that the outcome of the election to the Assembly of Experts is favourable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his ally President Ahmadinejad. The composition of the election committee also highlights the discrimination against Ahwazi Arabs, preventing them from seeking public office.

Campaign news

The only Arab member of the Assembly of Experts, Abbas Kaabi, is seeking re-election by campaigning to reduce sentences for Ahwazi political prisoners and greater press freedom. However, over the past year, he has been unable or unwilling to use his position to stop the imprisonment of Ahwazi children, land confiscations and the closure of local newspapers by the regime.