Water crisis spurs protests in Iran

A dead cow is seen on dried up grounds in Shahreza, Iran in this undated picture. (Tasnim News Agency/via Reuters)
Updated 29 March 2018

Water crisis spurs protests in Iran

BEIRUT: A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over water, a growing political concern due to a drought which residents of parched areas and analysts say has been exacerbated by mismanagement.
The demonstrations have been relatively small, sporadic and limited to towns around the central city of Isfahan and Khuzestan province in the west. But they have highlighted an issue that played a role in earlier unrest and the authorities have cracked down, while recognizing the need for change.
In early March, the turnout was light in a town near Isfahan, with dozens of farmers chanting the tongue-in-cheek slogan “Death to farmers, long live oppressors!,” according to online videos. A week later the protests became more tense.
Dozens of riot police on motorcycles faced off against farmers in the same town, Varzaneh, another video showed. Smoke swirled around the protesters and the person filming said tear gas was being fired. A second person reported clashes. Police in the city of Isfahan were not immediately available to comment.
“What’s called drought is more often the mismanagement of water,” said a journalist in Varzaneh, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“And this lack of water has disrupted people’s income.”
Farmers accuse local politicians of allowing water to be diverted from their areas in return for bribes.
While the nationwide protests in December and January stemmed from anger over high prices and alleged corruption, in rural areas, lack of access to water was also a major cause, analysts say.
At least 25 people were killed and, according to one parliamentarian, up to 3,700 people were arrested, the biggest challenge yet for the government of president Hassan Rouhani, who was reelected last year.

Displaced
In Syria, drought was one of the causes of anti-government protests which broke out in 2011 and led to civil war, making the Iranian drought particularly sensitive.
Approximately 97 percent of the country is experiencing drought to some degree, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Meteorological Organization. Rights groups say it has driven many people from their homes.
“Towns and villages around Isfahan have been hit so hard by drought and water diversion that they have emptied out and people who lived there have moved,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director for the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group.
“Nobody pays any attention to them. And people close to Rouhani told me the government didn’t even know such a situation existed and there were so many grievances.”
Rouhani and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mentioned drought as a problem that needs to be addressed in the country during their speech last week commemorating Nowruz, the Iranian new year, while condemning “lawlessness and violence.”
An ad running on state TV which encourages Iranian citizens to conserve water shows a man sitting in a chair in the middle of a desert with the slogan, “Drought is closer than you think.”
A United Nations report last year noted, “Water shortages are acute; agricultural livelihoods no longer sufficient. With few other options, many people have left, choosing uncertain futures as migrants in search of work.”
In early January, protests in the town of Qahderijan, some 10 km (6 miles) west of Isfahan, quickly turned violent as security forces opened fire on crowds, killing at least five people, according to activists. One of the dead was a farmer, CHRI said, and locals said water rights were the main grievance.
Videos posted on social media show protesters chanting outside a police station and throwing Molotov cocktails at the building, one of the most violent incidents documented during the nationwide protests.
A journalist in Qahderijan who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue said the attack on the police station was not the right thing to do but that water mismanagement had deprived farmers of their livelihoods.

Security
Hassan Kamran, a parliamentarian from Isfahan, publicly criticized energy minister Reza Ardakanian this month, accusing him of not properly implementing a water distribution law.
“The security and intelligence forces shouldn’t investigate our farmers. The water rights are theirs,” he told a parliamentary session.
In early March, Ardakanian set up a working group comprising four ministers and two presidential deputies to deal with the crisis.
Since the January protests, Rouhani has repeatedly said the government will do what it can to address grievances. But there is no quick fix for deeply rooted environmental issues like drought, observers say.
“These are local grievances but the solutions are with the national government,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, adding that the government had limited power and widespread corruption.
Rouhani’s office was not immediately available to comment.
Iranian security forces are aware of the potential for water issues to cause instability. A senior Revolutionary Guards commander, Yahya Rahim Safavi, noted in a public speech in late February that water will play a key role for both the Islamic Republic’s national and regional security.
Environmentalists have found themselves in the firing line.
In late January, Kavous Seyed-Emami, the director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, and six other environmentalists were arrested.
Two weeks later, authorities said Seyed-Emami had committed suicide in jail after confessing to being a spy for the United States and Israel. His family has denied the allegation.
State TV later aired a report saying Seyed-Emami and his colleagues were telling Iran’s enemies the country could no longer maintain domestic agriculture production because of a water shortage and needed to import food.
In late February, three more environmentalists were arrested and three weeks ago, Seyed-Emami’s wife was prevented from leaving Iran, according to family members.
“Public opinion has become sensitised to environmental issues,” said Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based economist and political analyst. “So the government may see the organizations and institutions who work on environmental issues as problematic.”


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”