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Regime hardliner attempts to co-opt Ahwazi Arabs

Former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaee is perverting the narrative of Ahwazi Arab rights in a bid to win votes in his bid for the Iranian presidency, claim Ahwazi activists.

The hardliner who currently serves as Secretary of the powerful Expediency Discernment Council, told a meeting in Fallehiyeh (Shadegan): "I will no longer refer to Arabic speakers. We should say 'Arab brothers'. Calling them Arabic speakers is insulting to Arab people and must be considered a crime."

Rezaee was confronting the tendency in Iran of playing down the ethnicity of Ahwazi Arabs by referring to them as "Arab-zaban" (Arabic speakers), although he has offered no political remedies for their grievances. He also raised the issue of conservation of the wetlands, which are being destroyed due to a controversial dam and river diversion programme.

Rezaee is an ethnic Bakhtiari born in Masjed Soleyman and is therefore presenting himself as a 'local' candidate in the region. However, he was instrumental in carrying out the Black Wednesday massacre in Mohammareh (Khorramshahr). He is also accused by the Argentine government for his involvement in terrorist attacks in Argentina. In the 2009 presidential elections, he was the candidate of the right-wing Hizb-i Ettedal va Toseh and received just 1.7 per cent of the vote with little support among Ahwazi Arabs.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "His remarks remind me of the Majlis candidate Sheish Jawad Moramazi, a well-known member of the Ettalaat, when he promised that Arab identity will be given a privilege in the Al-Ahwaz region. In reality, nothing changes when these politicians get into power even when naive people vote for them. Rezaee has had the opportunity and power to address the political, economic and cultural marginalisation of Ahwazi Arabs, but he has done nothing.

"They make slogans to boost election turnout and act as a safety valve for social tensions so that Ahwazi Arabs remain servile.

"The good thing is that Iranian politicians finally recognise that the Ahwazi Arab movement has momentum and the narrative of Arab rights is established within local political discourse."