Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
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Updated 25 July 2021

Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
  • ‘There are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,’ protester tells Arab News
  • Despite being rich in oil, the province’s Arabs are one of the most deprived communities in the country

LONDON: Iran’s Arab population has been on the frontline of water-shortage protests across cities in Khuzestan province this week.

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

“The reasons for the protests are many. In fact, there are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,” a protester told Arab News on condition of anonymity. 

Among the reasons are “oil and gas, and now the regime stole the waters of the rivers and dried up their lands,” the protester said, adding that Ahwazi Arabs “face many problems with unemployment and the obliteration of Arab identity.”

The protester said: “The demands are clear and legitimate: Provide agricultural water, restore rivers to their streams, open dams, employ Arabs in oil and gas companies, give freedom of expression and appoint officials from our governorate to feel our pain and concerns.

“Ahwaz hasn’t witnessed an Arab official since 1925. All officials are chosen from the center. They drain the governorate’s money then leave after stealing its wealth.” 

Videos shared on social media show water buffalos and fish lifeless on the ground due to dehydration in Ahwazi-Arab marshlands and villages.

Arabs in these areas rely on raising their cattle to get by, and water supply is essential for them to be able to make a living from agriculture. 

Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions,” including the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces. 

Among Iran’s Arab community, it is believed that the drying up of marshlands and the diversion of water are part of a state-led effort to displace them and change the province’s demography.

In a viral video released earlier this month, a local Arab sheikh tells officials: “We aren’t going to leave this land. You brought us floods and drought to make us migrate. We won’t leave. This is our ancestral land.”

US-based human rights advocate Rahim Hamid told Arab News: “Many Ahwazi activists have asserted that the state’s ongoing river-damming and diversion projects are part of a demographic change policy intended to force the indigenous Arab people from their lands.”

He added: “Protesters have voiced loud opposition to any such demographic change, chanting ‘no, no to displacement’ and ‘we protect Ahwaz with our blood and soul’.”

In his spring 2021 report, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Javid Rehman, noted “reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas” impacting Ahwazi Arabs.

Amnesty International has so far reported eight people killed by security forces during the protests.

Among them was teenager Hadi Bahmani, reportedly a Bakhtiari, who like others from that community joined the Khuzestan protests in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs. 

Hamid said Tehran is “maligning the protesters as separatist extremists, with regime officials and media adding insult to injury by using their customary racist anti-Arab language in their desperate efforts to delegitimize the protesters’ calls for fundamental human rights.”

Protesters have constantly assured Tehran that the demonstrations are peaceful and that their demands are not tied to separatism.

Instead, they want the regime to address both the water crisis and the multi-layered discrimination that Arabs in the country face.

Despite the oil-rich province, which is Iran’s largest source of foreign revenue, being Ahwazi Arabs’ home, they are one of the most deprived communities in the country and face abject poverty. 

In January, Mohsen Haidari, a senior cleric representing Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts — the deliberative body empowered to appoint Iran’s supreme leader — publically spoke of anti-Arab discrimination being rife in employment. 


Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
Updated 16 sec ago

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
  • The dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military said Sunday it had “repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces” in the disputed border area of Al-Fashaqa, near the conflict-ridden region of Tigray.

“Military forces have repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces in the district of Om Barakeet, forcing them to retreat,” said Brig. Al-Taher Abu Haga, the army’s media adviser, in a statement.

Om Barakeet lies in the contested Al-Fashaqa area, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan, next to the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Khartoum stationed troops in Al-Fashaqa in November, around the time Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray to oust the region’s ruling party.

The bloody conflict killed thousands of people and pushed more than 400,000 into famine, according to United Nations. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans have also fled into Sudan.s

The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam.

Sudan, along with Egypt, has been locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam for a decade. Both downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.

Separately in Sudan, the general who heads the country’s ruling transitional authority on Sunday pledged to reform the army, days after a failed coup.

“We are going to reorganize the armed forces ... Partisan activities are banned in the army,” Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said at the opening of a military hospital in Khartoum.

“The armed forces are committed to holding elections on the date fixed for ending the transition” in 2023, he said.

“After that, the army will leave the political scene and its role will be limited to protecting the country.”

Sudan is led by a civilian-military administration under an August 2019 power-sharing deal signed after President Omar Bashir’s ouster by the military in April that year following mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.

Sudan’s government said it thwarted a Sept. 21 coup attempt involving military officers and civilians linked to the regime of imprisoned Bashir. At least 11 officers were among those arrested.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has since called for reforms within the army, a highly sensitive issue in Sudan.

A transition to full civilian rule has remained shaky, reeling from deep fragmentation among political factions, economic woes and a receding role for civilian leaders.

Paramilitary leader and Burhan’s deputy in the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has pointed a finger of blame at politicians after the failed coup.

“Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen ... and are more concerned fighting over how they can stay in power,” Daglo said.


Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 30 sec ago

Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • Jarrar was sentenced in March 2021 to 2 years in prison for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel and the US label a ‘terrorist’ organization
  • She had been detained without charge since 2019, and her sentence included time served

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities on Sunday released from jail Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar after two years in detention.
Jarrar, 58, was sentenced to two years in March 2021 for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel and the United States label a “terrorist” organization.
But the Israeli military did not find evidence Jarrar had taken part in violent acts.
She had been detained without charge since 2019 when she was arrested along with several other Palestinian figures following an attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel blamed the attack on the PFLP.
Jarrar was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, as part of the PFLP.
On Sunday the group congratulated Jarrar on her release, describing her as a “comrade in arms” known for her “patience and tenacity.”

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar holds her mother’s hands as she arrives to Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021.

After leaving jail Jarrar visited the tomb of her daughter Suha who died in July, an AFP correspondent said.
At the time, Israeli prison authorities refused to allow Jarrar to attend the funeral.
Jarrar has been arrested and jailed many times and often held without charge in what Israelis call administrative detention.
Israeli administrative detention orders allow suspects to be held without charge for renewable six-month periods.
Israel says the procedure is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing crimes in the meantime.
But the system has been criticized by Palestinians, human rights groups and members of the international community, who say Israel abuses it.


Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management
Updated 46 min 20 sec ago

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management

Why the Middle East and North Africa must switch to sustainable water management
  • Environmental pressures and water scarcity are contributing to instability and forced migration
  • Recycling, improved farming techniques and greater cooperation urged to reduce water waste

DUBAI: Low rainfall, limited freshwater from rivers and lakes, and dwindling non-renewable groundwater reserves make the Middle East the most water-stressed region on earth.

Meanwhile, demand is soaring — and likely to rise even further given population growth and economic development — leading to some of the highest per-capita water consumption rates in the world.

So, the region needs to get better at preserving its limited water and becoming more efficient at using what it desalinates. The good news is that the solutions are not beyond human imagining or economic feasibility.

In fact, some may be simple and affordable. A 2020 report by the non-profit World Resources Institute found that the cost could be as low as 1 percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual gross domestic product. Innovations such as solar-powered desalination, raising crop productivity “per drop,” and wastewater treatment and reuse hold great promise.

Matthew McCabe, a professor of water security and remote sensing at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, is working with the Saudi government to optimize water use for food production. Central to this is careful monitoring of water use in agriculture, the sector that consumes the most water in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The World Bank estimates that agriculture consumes about 70 percent of freshwater taken from ground or surface water sources globally. The share is even higher in the MENA region, touching 80 percent. In Saudi Arabia, about 90 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture.

“We’re looking at doing more accurate accounting of agricultural water use throughout the country and it must be done throughout the region,” McCabe said.

Agriculture consumes about 70 percent of freshwater taken from ground or surface water sources globally. (AFP file photo)

“So, the more efficiently and sustainably we can use water for food production, the better we can move toward more responsible use of our water resources. The big problem is that we’re not using desalinated water. We’re using groundwater which is not being replaced.”

According to Vangelis Constantianos, regional coordinator at the Global Water Partnership, an advocacy and skills-building network, efforts to boost food security through expanded agricultural production in an arid environment put great stress on resources if “smart” water-saving technologies are ignored.

Constantianos said that desalination poses challenges of its own in the form of high energy costs and greenhouse-gas emissions. Brine discharge also harms the environment, while too much subsidized water hides the real cost of production.

“An amply provided water supply may not assist in developing a society that is conscious of the challenge and its responsibility to conserve water for its needs and nature,” he said.

That responsibility is increasing as the issue of water scarcity becomes more pressing.

Women and young village girls collect water from a rain water pool which is purified before use with tablets in Gayo village, Ethiopia. ((Shutterstock)

The WRI report estimated that 3 billion people around the world lack basic hand-washing facilities, a quarter of the world’s population lives in countries facing high water stress, and there are more than 500 “dead zones” — oxygen-poor areas in the oceans caused by untreated wastewater.

In the MENA region, environmental pressures and water scarcity are contributing to instability and forced migration. Large parts of Yemen, the Khuzestan province of Iran, Sudan and now Lebanon are facing severe water problems that have provoked anti-government protests.

“Crops depend entirely on agriculture in the arid region, and officials say that supporting agriculture stems rural migration and reduces the need to use hard currency for food imports,” The Economist said in July.

A sunrise view for a canal coming from the Nile River passing through fields of farm lands in rural road Al Mehwar, Giza, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

On the downside, the magazine said, “subsidies have long encouraged farmers in the region to waste water on a massive scale; still, leaders like to use cheap water as a way to buy support or further their interests.”

The World Bank estimates that by 2050 the impact of water scarcity may cost MENA countries between 6 and 14 percent of GDP. So, the region cannot afford business as usual.

Omar Saif, manager of Middle East Advisory Services at WSP, an engineering consultancy, said that breaking down the elements of water security needed per country can help build a clearer image of where investment should be directed. This can be particularly useful if applied to national budgeting.

Focusing on share of GDP, rather than absolute costs, helps to identify investment gaps that persist on a country-by-country basis, he said.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are Iraq’s main water source and essential for agriculture. (AFP file photo)

“The fact that we see under-developed countries requiring much larger shares of their GDP to address water security shouldn’t be taken as a sign of futile efforts, but rather a call to action for the international community to coordinate the allocation of their international development aid budgets,” he told Arab News.

Saif said that the WRI report sent a clear message that sustainable water solutions are within reach. However, “to reach this desired end-state will require collective action from public and private sectors.”

Water charges need to reformed and greater trans-boundary cooperation promoted. New academic programs focusing on water security and improved farming techniques can also help. “Most agricultural departments are antiquated and do not integrate the role of climate resilience, technology and business into agri-programs,” he said.

FASTFACTS

17 Countries that need 8 percent+ of GDP to deliver sustainable water management.

10 percent Global population share of the 17 countries.

75 Countries that can achieve sustainable water management for less than 2 percent of GDP.

As one of the largest consumers and producers of water in the world, Saudi Arabia is taking the initiative via mega-projects such as NEOM, the new city in the Kingdom’s northern desert that promises zero liquid discharge and uses clean energy to produce freshwater.

Saudi Arabia is also investing in more efficient desalination processes and more sustainable approaches that have the potential to be exported abroad.

But the bill is far from cheap. McCabe said that while 1 percent of GDP does not sound like a lot, in Saudi Arabia that equates to about $10 billion every year for 15 years, totaling $150 billion. In other MENA countries, the cost is around 4 or 5 percent of GDP. Recycling, therefore, is critical to an improved outcome.

Waste-water treatment plant in Saudi Arabia. (AN file photo)

“Saudi Arabia is also taking a good governance approach to water usage with Vision 2030 to dramatically increase water reuse,” McCabe told Arab News. “We need to recycle that water for other purposes, whether it’s drinking, for agriculture or food production, rather than sending it off into the ocean. We need to close the cycle.”

To that end, investing in municipal waste water could be opened up to the private sector, the experts said. A recent World Bank/IFC analysis found that if cities in emerging markets focus on low-carbon water and waste as part of their post-COVID-19 recovery, they could catalyze as much as $2 trillion in investments and create over 23 million new jobs by 2030.

While there are some signs of progress in the region, often supported by international efforts, the pace of change is not fast enough to address the growing challenges. “Lack of suitable governance and investment frameworks, and consequently of financing, plays an important role, including resulting in much more limited involvement by the private sector than required,” Constantianos said.

Iraqi boys swim with a herd of buffaloes in the Diyala River in the Fadiliyah district, northeast of Baghdad on August 2, 2021. (AFP)

While some solutions may be simple and affordable, design and implementation require a sophisticated and often tailor-made approach.

“Water flows everywhere, through economic sectors, institutions and social relations. Thus, addressing water scarcity and climate impacts requires integrated management for all natural resources at appropriate level, and not for water alone,” Constantianos said.

“We have no choice but to address this because they’re going to be long-term projects,” he said. “It’s going to take many decades to develop the infrastructure to support this.”

But unrest prompted by construction of dams, corruption, mismanagement and water shortages is already triggering political unrest and could lead to wars in the worst scenario. As The Economist warned: “Without better (water) sharing, management and investment, millions of the region’s residents risk becoming climate refugees.”

___________________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


50 Houthis killed in new battle for Marib city

50 Houthis killed in new battle for Marib city
Updated 26 September 2021

50 Houthis killed in new battle for Marib city

50 Houthis killed in new battle for Marib city
  • Yemen’s president blasts militia as ‘hateful Iranian stooges’

AL-MUKALLA: Up to 50 Houthis died in fierce fighting in Yemen on Sunday as the Iran-backed militia opened new fronts in their months-long offensive to capture Marib city.

Arab coalition warplanes targeted Houthi military reinforcements before they reached the battlefields in Marib, helping government troops to push back the assault.

After failing to break through defenses west of Marib, the Houthis opened new fronts across the province’s southern borders with Shabwa and Al-Bayda, attacking troops in Al-Abedia, Bayhan, and Ouselan.

The attacks led the army to send fresh troops and military equipment to Shabwa, Abyan, Marib and Al-Bayda. Local tribes have also dispatched fighters and vowed to push back Houthi incursions into their territories in the four provinces.

“In the past 48 hours, 43 Houthi fighters were killed, mostly in coalition airstrikes,” a military source said.

The Houthis are Iranian stooges who have made Yemen a hostage to expansionist Iranian policies and a place for transmitting the hateful Iranian experience that the Yemeni people reject.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi

The Houthis initially escalated their efforts to seize Marib in February, hoping to gain control of the strategically vital city and the region’s oil resources. Marib, about 120km east of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, sits at a crossroads between the southern and northern regions and is key to controlling Yemen’s north.

Local officials said thousands had been forced to flee their homes and displacement camps in the province as the Houthis intensified their assaults on towns and villages. Families have taken refuge in the city of Marib amid a severe shortage of shelter, food and water. The city hosts more than 2 million people who have fled fighting and Houthi repression in their home provinces.

A Houthi missile strike night killed five people and wounded at least 17 others in Medi town in the northern province of Hajjah.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi blasted Iran for fueling the war and using the Houthis as tools for executing its “harmful” expansionist ambitions in the region.

Speaking to Yemenis at the weekend on the anniversary of their revolution, Hadi urged them to forget their differences and come together to defeat the Houthis, who he described as “purely Iranian stooges.”

“They made the homeland a hostage to the expansionist Iranian policies and a place for transmitting the hateful Iranian experience that the Yemeni people reject,” he said.


Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos

Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
Updated 11 min 34 sec ago

Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos

Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
  • The violence that wracked Libya after the 2011 revolt that toppled former ruler Muammar Qaddafi stirred fears for the ancient ruins

AL-KHUMS, Libya: Once among the Roman Empire’s most beautiful cities, Leptis Magna lies neglected and shunned by tourists after a decade of war, but some see its potential for rebirth.

There is no queue at the gate and only a handful of visitors, almost all Libyans, wander among the imposing ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visiting the area, a former Roman outpost on the south coast of the Mediterranean, is “a voyage in time, a dive into history,” enthuses Abdessalam Oueba, a Libyan visitor in his 60s.

Founded by the Phoenicians then conquered by Rome, the city was the birthplace of Septimius Severus, who rose to become emperor from 193 until 211.

The ruler waged military campaigns across Europe and into modern-day Iraq before dying in York, England, far from the hometown on which he had lavished resources.

Perched on a hillside with a striking view of the Mediterranean, the well-preserved ruins include a large basilica, a racecourse and a theater seating up to 15,000 spectators on arched terraces overlooking the sea.

Among the few visiting tourists are Ihab, from Tripoli, who made the 120-km trip to show his children a site he had visited during his own childhood.

“Leptis Magna is beautiful, the most beautiful Roman site outside Italy,” the 34-year-old doctor said under a clear blue sky. “Yet it’s barely been discovered.”

The violence that wracked Libya after the 2011 revolt that toppled former ruler Muammar Qaddafi stirred fears for the ancient ruins, prompting UN cultural agency UNESCO to place them and four other Libyan sites on a list of global heritage in danger.

But so far, the areas have been mostly spared from the fighting, which has largely paused since an October 2020 ceasefire.

“There haven’t been any direct attacks or threats against Leptis Magna, despite the conflict,” said Azeddine Al-Fakih, head of the site’s antiquities department.

Yet it faces other threats: A lack of resources and government support.

“In 2020, we were finally able to launch projects that should have been finished 50 years ago,” he said, listing toilet facilities, offices and a perimeter fence.

“But archaeological digs have stopped, and maintenance operations are rushed and superficial.”

Fakih admitted that after 10 years of conflict and state collapse, Libya’s current unity government “has bigger problems to deal with.”

There was almost no tourism in Libya under Qaddafi, whose rule from 1969-2011 depended heavily on the country’s vast oil wealth. Tense foreign relations and sanctions also discouraged foreign visitors.

A year-long lull in violence has sparked hopes the country can move on.

Omar Hdidan, a civil engineer who volunteers to promote and maintain Leptis Magna, believes in its potential for tourism.

“It has always been neglected by the state,” the 49-year-old said.

“There are no digs, no new discoveries, no campaign to encourage tourism. But Leptis Magna is more valuable than 10 oil wells.”