In a daring display of defiance in front of television cameras and a public audience, retired teacher Haj Ghasem Hamadi of Khafajyeh [correction: in the previous version of this report, the man was wrongly identified as a religious sheikh] lambasted the Iranian regime's indifference to the plight of Ahwazi Arabs during a presidential visit to a local mosque. Rouhani was left speechless and the man was interrupted by a presidential aide.
Hamadi said: "In terms of agriculture, there is no water only salty water, no irrigation, no fertilizers and no seeds. They provide 20 bags of compost per hectares for Dezful, but we are given one per hectare. In terms of agriculture everything is below par. In terms of facilities in the area also is below par.
"We have got problems in education. Our situation is bad. No one asks about our hardship. Everyone who comes from there [from Tehran] says hello and goodbye. That is all."
Rouhani asked: “You mean there is nothing?”
The man answered: “There is not anything. You are in Tehran, you don’t know this region is deprived. There is no farming, no reconstruction, no water, no prosperity, no one asks about us, you are in Tehran, shouldn’t you ask about the deprived regions? We have the oil, the water, the land but we are dying from hunger!"
President Rouhani created high expectations among Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups after he promised to end discrimination and enforce linguistic rights during his election campaign.
Rouhani attempted to win over several Arab sheikhs who were invited to meet him in Tehran and voice their concerns. At the meeting, he appeared to accede to their demands for a 10 per cent share of cabinet seats for members of the Arab minority. However, he has failed to appoint any Arabs to ministerial positions.
The president has failed to address some of the more urgent development issues that concern ordinary Ahwazi Arabs who feel increasingly estranged from their co-opted tribal leaders, namely the region's man-made environmental crisis and political issues. Rouhani's failure to engage with ordinary Arab workers and farmers indicates that his administration will continue to seek to use political and financial patronage to win the allegiance of tribal elites with little attempt to engage with the masses.