The Iranian province of Khuzestan is oil-rich but water-poor. At the best of times, the southwestern region is a problem for Tehran. On the border with Iraq, it’s home to an Arab minority that has long been targeted. The province has separatist inclinations, which led to a failed uprising in 1979 and sees the occasional attack continue to this day. Unsurprisingly, it is not favoured by central government. It’s impoverished and lacks many basic services; quality of life is poor.
Khuzestan is now in its sixth straight day of protests after water shortages in its major cities. Video footage filmed from protests reportedly shows tanks on fire after protestors set them alight as well as protestors blocking roads while riot police fire teargas into crowds and shots sound in the background.
Khuzestanis already had much to protest. Now throw in the worst drought for 50 years and then add in a touch of the Islamic Republic’s perennial mismanagement (here over water). Combine all of this with weeks of blackouts (a feature of modern Iranian life) and a Covid epidemic and then top it all off with the return of sanctions after the collapse of the nuclear deal. In Khuzestan, the extent of the Islamic Republic’s — serious and sustained — problems cannot be denied.
Protests over water have morphed into demands for regime change. Protestors now chant — in Arabic rather than Farsi — ‘We are thirsty’, ‘We want the regime to fall’. Amnesty International confirmed to France 24 that at least two protesters have died. The number of people who have been injured remains unknown.
What makes these protests so worrying for the regime is that they continued a national trend that was only cut short by a pandemic which forced everyone indoors.