Shamkhani, himself an Ahwazi Arab, has previously served as defence minister (1997-2005) and naval commander. No other ethnic Arab has held such high position in office. In spite of an apparent election pledge by Hassan Rouhani to allocate 10 per cent of ministerial positions to ethnic Arabs, Shamkhani is the only appointment from the community. The regime imposes a ceiling on Arabs rising through political or civil service ranks using the discriminatory gozinesh law.
Known as "the admiral" in Tehran but "the traitor" in Al-Ahwaz, Ahwazi Arabs grew increasingly disillusioned with Shamkhani following the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War in which he played a leading part in defending Iran from Saddam Hussein's forces. The high ranking military strategist has failed to use his position to address the socio-economic problems and cultural marginalisation and discrimination faced by the community.
Although Ahwazi Arabs suffered more than any other community during the war, they have had little assistance and rural communities continue to be blighted by the problem of landmines. Many portray him a traitor and a lackey of the regime with dwindling credibility within the Ahwazi community.
Few believe Shakhani will use his position to enhance the status of Ahwazi Arabs, who endure levels of poverty commonly associated with sub-Saharan Africa although their traditional lands are among the world's most oil rich.
Following the Ahwazi 2005 intifada, the regime attempted to use Shamkhani to allay anger with the Ahwazi Arab community over discrimination and persecution. Members of the crowd threw eggs at him and chanted pro-Ahwazi slogans.