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  Iran’s criminalisation of expressions of ethnicity in Ahwaz


As an Ahwazi Arab woman, I have always found it challenging to openly express and embrace my ethnicity in the predominantly Arab region of Ahwaz in the south and southwest of Iran. The Ahwaz region comprises parts of the south of Ilam, Khuzestan, Bushehr and Hormozegan provinces, which runs from the Iraqi border down the eastern Gulf coast. Both the monarchy that preceded the current regime and the so-called ‘Islamic Republic’ that replaced it in 1979 have worked to eradicate the indigenous Ahwazi Arab people’s culture, banning the teaching of Arabic in schools, looting and expropriating the people’s natural resources, and attempting to forcibly assimilate the region’s peoples into the dominant Persian culture and language. 

In this study, we examine how and why embracing or even expressing one’s Arab ethnicity is in itself criminalised in the Ahwaz region. In this autobiographical ethnographical narrative research, I first attempt to elaborate on my experiences as a member of the Ahwazi Arab people, and on how I’ve suffered criminalisation for embracing my ethnicity; in support of my arguments, I also cite various sources to amplify the main arguments in the research. My primary resource is the Arab News article ‘The forgotten Arabs of Iran’ by Jonathan Gornall, with other data taken from Iranian news sources.

To answer the research questions in depth, this essay uses Michael Foucault’s theories of discipline and punishment. These theories include disciplining mechanisms and educational institutions, surveillance as a power to limit subjects’ autonomy, rehabilitation as a disciplinary tool, and representation of resistance and how deviancy is constructed and reformed by the state. Due to the stated points, the following questions are answered through the process of this research:

1. In Ahwaz, why is speaking Arabic at school considered a crime? In what ways 

does the state use its power to emphasise this crime?

2. Why has embracing the Arabic language and traditional Ahwazi Arab culture been criminalised? What are the punishments? 

3. Why are there no legal Arab Ahwazi recreational and entertainment venues such as cafes or restaurants where the indigenous Arab Ahwazi people can relax and enjoy their traditional food, music, poetry and cultural expressions without jeopardising their safety? 


Not speaking Arabic is a social contract; it is not illegal

In Foucauldian analysis, “the distinctive feature of modern power (disciplinary control) is its concern with what people have not done (nonobservance), that is, a person’s failure to meet required standards. This concern illustrates the primary function of modern disciplinary systems: to correct deviant behavior. The main goal is not revenge (as in the case of the tortures of pre- modern punishment) but reform, where reform means primarily coming to live by society’s standards or norms. Discipline through imposing precise and detailed norms, “normalisation,” is quite different from the older system of judicial punishment, which merely judges each action as either allowed or not allowed by the law and does not indicate whether those judged are “normal” or “abnormal.” This idea of normalisation is pervasive in our society: e.g., national standards for educational programs, for medical practice, for industrial processes and products” (Kallman & Dini, 2017).

During my childhood, because I had no difficulties with speaking Farsi and was lucky enough not to have an ‘Arab accent’, many of my Persian schoolteachers did not exhibit any prejudiced attitudes toward me. They must have known that I was an Ahwazi Arab student, because our family surnames indicate our ethnicity. However, as long as I could speak Farsi (normal attitude), I was not viewed as a threat to the school system. Thus I did not experience traumatic incidents as many of my classmates did. I did not do anything deviant that ‘required correction’, in Foucault’s sense. Many Ahwazi Arab students, however, find it challenging to participate in class discussions because of their difficulty in speaking Farsi fluently. When I was a student in elementary school, I felt extremely lucky to be able to answer teachers’ questions in unaccented Farsi, knowing that if I ‘passed’ as a Fars or Persian-Iranian student, no one would automatically underestimate my intelligence, as is the case for Ahwazi Arabs and other national ethnic minorities-majorities in their own regions. Back then, in my childhood, I was unaware that I was becoming assimilated through language into the dominant culture, with one of the ‘prizes’ for assimilated individuals being the ability to communicate in Farsi without difficulty.

In his book Discipline and Punishment, Foucault examined the relationship between disciplinary mechanisms and educational institutions(Kallman & Dini, 2017). Educational power has always been underestimated, but these institutions have always had invisible disciplinary power, with teachers being the figures who exerted visible sovereign power. The teachers, as well as other school staff, are in charge of some major aspects of school control; classrooms, timetables, examination techniques, and hierarchical structures. Together, these factors give them the power and authority to create well-indoctrinated students.

To use surveillance power in the Foucauldian sense, first the Iranian government very deliberately appoints non-Arab teachers and staff in Ahwazi Arab cities to enforce the use of Farsi in schools and to discourage the indigenous Ahwazi students from speaking their native language. Two Ahwazi teachers named “Naim Hamidi and Sayed Nashan Al-Boshawka have both written articles criticising Ahwaz’s education directorate. They condemn the terrible conditions and poor quality of education in Ahwazi regional schools in comparison to other regions in Iran, as well as the education ministry’s openly racist and discriminatory recruitment policies which see highly qualified Ahwazi Arab teachers deliberately rejected in favor of less qualified, ethnically Persian teachers”.(Two Journalists Face Trial In Ahwaz For Criticizing Education Officials | Countercurrents, 2018)

  According to Article 15 of the Constitution, Farsi (Persian) is the official and common language and script of the Iranian people, with the constitution stating that “This language and text must be used in all documents, correspondence, official texts, and schoolbooks. However, the use of regional and ethnic minorities languages in the press, the mass media, and the teaching of their literature in schools, alongside the Persian language, is freely permitted.” Furthermore, according to the same constitutional article, the use of languages other than Farsi is allowed. In practice, however, the speaking, writing or learning of languages other than Farsi is outlawed and effectively criminalised. Thus, Ahwazi Arab students are forced to speak Farsi in the classroom, with non-Arab teachers and staff appointed in Arab neighbourhoods specifically to enforce this. Thus, assimilation begins with the education system, and all students are pushed to integrate into it to a certain extent.

As mentioned earlier, Article 15 states that the Persian language must be taught in schools, but those other languages may be taught alongside it. This draws a clear distinction between the Persian language, which is obligatory, and other languages, which are permissible. However, there is a catch embedded in the language of this article. The aforesaid article of the Constitution stipulates that it is permissible to teach non-Persian languages, but this does not mean that schools can give lessons spoken in that language. For example, students cannot have all their lessons taught to them by a teacher speaking their native language, but they can take one class dedicated to the study of it as a “foreign language”.

In another effort to crush the linguistic variety in the country, the non-Farsi language textbooks provided were substandard and written and arranged in such a way to be purposefully unclear and confusing. For example, The Persian teachers tend to teach the Arabic language in the Ahwazi schools very poorly and apathetically, despite putting massive pressure on the Ahwazi students to do well in the final exams, however woefully inadequate the preparation and teaching they’ve received, arguably deliberately setting the Ahwazi Arab students up to fail. When Ahwazi students are taught their native languages improperly, then set up to fail their exams, it is only natural for them to struggle in their studies, lose faith in their abilities, and eventually give up pursuing them altogether.  

Persian teachers also actively promote offensive and racist stereotypes in the classroom about Ahwazi students – such as laughing at the accents of Ahwazi Arabs when they are speaking Persian. Furthermore, the teachers mock the Ahwazi students’ efforts to speak the imposed the Persian language. For instance, they routinely tell the Ahwazi Arab children that their native accents are too coarse and lacking in the necessary breeding and refinement to properly master the “sweetness” of the Persian language. This blatant and relentless supremacist indoctrination is a way to break students’ spirits. Due to this constant degrading treatment and humiliation, all but the very strongest students suffer a dual-identity crisis – feeling they must hide their true ethnic and linguistic identity behind a fake ‘Persianism’ in order to get ahead or prosper in life.

All these practices promoted by the Iranian regime against non-Persian ethnic groups are justified under the pretext of preserving Iran’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to save the country from fragmentation and division. The Iranian regime also flatly rejects any suggestion of providing education in other languages, claiming that this would dilute and bring about the loss of the Persian language. But none of these authorities asks themselves why the capabilities, languages, and cultures of these other groups of peoples must be sacrificed in order to preserve only the language and culture of the Persians.

 In the Foucauldian sense, rehabilitation not only involves ‘reforming’ the offender but also aims to prepare him to live free of criminal offences, without criminal environments and without crimes (Foucault, 1995). In the case of Ahwazis, the predominant “crime” is being an Ahwazi Arab who must be assimilated into the dominant, ‘Farsi’ language and culture which is an act of rehabilitation in Foucauldian terms. In Foucauldian analysis, schools represent prisons where students are disciplined in favour of the state’s policies. Indeed in Ahwaz, the schools in Ahwazi neighbourhoods resemble penal institutions rather than schools. They are cramped spaces surrounded by the tall buildings, with no playgrounds or child-friendly facilities for the students, in stark contrast to the spacious, child-friendly schools in non-Arab neighbourhoods. Consequently, rather than being treated as vulnerable children requiring protection, nurturing and education, Ahwazi Arab children enrolled in these grim schools in Ahwazi Arab neighbourhoods are treated as potential delinquents to be subjected to ‘rehabilitation’ by teachers and school staff.

Those children in Ahwaz who can attend school face multiple serious problems, including systematic physical and verbal racial abuse for their ethnicity from ethnically Persian teaching staff. The mistreatment of students includes racist slurs, personal insults, and often severe physical assaults. The teachers act with impunity, with any complaints about abuse more likely to see the complainant harassed by regime officials than the teacher responsible be held accountable. While the degree of violence inflicted on the pupils by teachers differs according to the children ’s ethnicity, their social and economic status and their academic abilities, most are simply racist in nature. The worst abuse is reserved for the most impoverished children from deprived backgrounds, which is a large percentage of the Ahwazi population, while children with disabilities are also a favourite target for abuse by teaching staff.

 To rehabilitate a person in this sense, Foucault believed it was necessary to label them as “different” from the social norm. Instead of reintegrating these “criminals” into society, one stigmatises them as “not meeting the required standard”(Foucault, 1995). Such an example of labelling a group can be seen in a new regulation announced by the Iranian education ministry’s elementary schools education department in June 2019, according to which a new program was implemented specifically for ethnic minority elementary school students. In a recent interview with the state ISNA news agency, the department head explained that this plan applies only to children exhibiting poor proficiency in Farsi. (How Iran’s New Education Proposal Silences and Criminalizes Non-Persian Languages, Washington Institute, Fikra Forum, 2019 ) Under the new law, the state will identify students who cannot speak Farsi fluently and force them to undergo extra courses to become better Farsi speakers in the near future. This is the ultimate goal of the process of assimilation.

 The state’s insistence on using non-Arab teachers in schools with predominantly or exclusively Arab students means that the students are forced to switch to the Farsi language rather than using their native Arabic in order to make any academic progress and avoid punishment. As in every oppressed society, however, there is resistance to this effort at enforced complete assimilation. Students still communicate with one another in Arabic at schools, despite knowing that they face harsh punishment if school staff observe or catch them doing so, even though doing so isn’t illegal according to the Iranian constitution.

There are many examples of this draconian punishment of children for speaking their own language; for one instance, in 2017, on November 4 in the village of Beit Mahareb on the outskirts of the eponymously named regional capital, Ahwaz, two Arab students were punished and humiliated by their teacher, a ‘Mrs. Shoshtari’, for speaking Arabic in the classroom. Here, the ‘deviant’ behaviour was speaking Arabic which immediately required ‘reform’ by the teacher. In order to punish the two children, she forced them to write out one hundred times, “We must refrain from speaking Arabic in the classroom”. Based on this instance, the teacher, ‘Mrs. Shoshtari’, acted as an officer for the state to rehabilitate these two Ahwazi Arab students, “the potential delinquents”, to show them the correct way of being submissive, obedient students.

On April 22 2016, it was reported that a male Persian Iranian teacher punished two Ahwazi primary school pupils for speaking with one another in their Arabic mother tongue by forcing them to wash their mouths with soap and water. The teacher also reportedly warned other pupils that they would face the same punishment if he heard them speaking Arabic or if they were reported to have done so in his absence. (Education in Ahwaz: Children denied a future|Dialogue Institute for research and studies 2019). 


Embracing the Arabic language and culture is not tolerated

In Foucauldian philosophy, where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. (The History of Sexuality Volume 1 p.95). Assimilation has always been an effective tool used by Iran’s dominant regime to control and discipline minorities, especially in the Ahwaz region. This ruling regime has used several methods in its efforts to eradicate the region’s traditional Arab culture and refashion it into the dominant Fars culture, refusing to tolerate any resistance. There will always be a limit to an individual’s resistance to language assimilation. Despite the fact that many Arabs grow up from infancy speaking their native language learnt from their parents and families, they are incapable of reading or writing Arabic due to being denied the opportunity to learn it at school or in any other setting. 

Al-Hiwar, an Ahwazi cultural foundation established to teach Arabic and educate Ahwazis about Arab culture in response to this lack of academic Arabic courses and critical engagement opportunities, was immediately targeted by the regime, which treats any academic support for or education in the Arabic language and Arab culture as a criminal enterprise, denouncing and criminalising the academics and any other figures involved.

This was very clearly shown in the cases of the Al-Hawar Foundation’s founders, Hadi Rashedi, 38, and Ahwazi activist Hashem Shabani, 32, who were imprisoned and tortured for two years before being sentenced to death and executed in July 2012, at the respective ages of 38 and 32, on charges of ‘Moharebeh’ (waging war against God and ‘Ifsad fel Arz’ (‘corruption on Earth’) — charges typically used against dissidents – for establishing the foundation. As the human rights site ‘Iran Human Rights’ has noted, Rashedi’s and Shabani’s sole crime was establishing Al-Hiwar as an institution promoting Arabic education. In their ‘confessions’ extracted under torture, which were used to justify the charges and their execution, Shabani ‘confessed to having written critically about the regime in a letter. The cases of Rashedi and Shahani are not unusual, but among the regime’s standard abuses against Ahwazi and other ethnic minorities in Iran, with “hideous crimes against Ahwazis, particularly arbitrary and unjust executions” being the norm (The Forgotten Arabs of Iran, Arab News). 

As Michel Foucault concisely stated in Discipline and Punish, “resistance comes first, and resistance remains superior to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with the resistance. (Foucault, 1975). Despite the Ahwazi Arab community being effectively forbidden from using their own language to embrace their identity, they will find ways beyond language to celebrate and honour their culture beyond language. This is exactly what two female Arab fitness coaches did in a very clear example of cultural resistance in March 2022, in a fitness-jumping dance video clip that spread virally across social media. The two fitness coaches, Aseye Donyari and Ameneh Kaabi, were arrested immediately by regime authorities for the ‘crimes’ of wearing the traditional Arab keffiyehs on their heads and by dancing to Ahwazi Arab music. The regime accused the two women of dancing, which is illegal under regime law. While there are many videos showing women jumping and dancing across the country, none have faced charges of sharing their video clips or been fired or suspended from their jobs as the two Ahwazi women were. Clearly, the Iranian state applies a double standard to the same crime.


Quran Ahwazi recitals and Ahwazi poets’ different fates

“The dehumanising effects of modern power regimes strip the individual of their human status, especially since power is easier to exercise over those not ‘truly human’”(Kallman & Dini, 2017)”. In the context of the Ahwaz region, the concept of not being ‘truly human’ refers to not being ‘truly Persian’, focusing on one of the main narratives promoted by the Iranian regime, which is that Ahwazi Arabs are inferior, separatist and backward in nature, so must be collectively treated as a potential threat to Iranian society. To encourage non-Arab citizens in Ahwaz to continue unquestioningly believing and accepting this narrative, the Iranian government harshly disciplines and punishes any members of the oppressed Arab population who it views as being particularly ‘potentially delinquent’.

This research paper’s main contention is that, due to this constant indoctrination, any move by members of the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population to embrace or celebrate their Arab identity is easily interpreted and conflated with presenting a “security threat” to the Iranian government. One such example is the case, reported by Radio Farda, of the suspicious murder of the prominent Ahwazi poet Hasan Heidari at the age of 27.

Heidari’s Shaabi (Arabic for “of the people”) poetry, which powerfully explores ordinary people’s problems, interests, and dreams, made him a well-known and well-loved figure among Ahwazi Arabs, who flocked to hear his poetry recitals at religious ceremonies, memorial services, celebrations, and weddings, where such poetry is an integral part of traditional culture, with poets invited to such ceremonies by Iranian and other Arabs as a matter of tradition. Heidari was arrested and interrogated by Iranian regime agents for more than 40 days after reciting a poem at one of these gatherings on August 18, 2018, receiving several summonses from the intelligence bureau for further interrogation after he was released over a year later. Although the official cause given for Heidari’s death was a stroke, his family and friends believe that Hasan, a fit young man, did not die a natural death. ”Since many Iranians distrust their government, as well as the security agencies’ history of illegal actions and the Islamic Republic’s history of eliminating critics and opponents, it is not surprising that Heideri’s sudden death has raised suspicions that he did not die a natural death, but that he was murdered by biological assassination [use of chemicals or poisons], which means using viruses, bacteria, toxins or other poisons”.(Suspicious Death of Iranian-Arab Poet Leads to Protests, n.d.)

As Hassan Hashemian, a political analyst and expert on ethnic Arabs in Iran, explained to Radio Farda, “The gatherings where poets like Heideri recite their works are opportunities for local intellectuals and activists to circumvent state censorship”. Hashemian also told Radio Farda that Heideri’s critical themes made him an influential figure among ethnic Arabs and an icon among the younger generation of Arab poets in the Ahwaz region.

Hashemian further noted that Heidari “harshly criticised clerical preachers in a famous poem,” adding that this group of clerics serves an oppressive system that oppresses ethnic Arabs in Khuzestan. The analyst further explained that the Iranian government endeavours to silence poets like Heidari who write poems reflecting local dissatisfaction. “Iranian security forces are clear that silencing and eliminating dissidents in the region is a priority,” Hashemian says”.(Farda, n.d.)

The murder of Hasan Heidari was Heidari certainly not the first suspicious death of an Ahwazi poet. As Iran Wire reported, Sattar Sayahi, known as Abu Suroor Al-Ahwazi, fell ill at around midnight on November 11, 2012, with symptoms similar to Hasan, including bleeding from his nose and ears. The Iran Wire article continued, “Sayahi was also arrested a number of times for criticism of his poems. In the final weeks before his death, he was summoned by the authorities and they warned him that if he did not stop writing and reciting critical poems, his children would become orphans. A few years earlier, on March 25, 2008, three other Arab poets – Taher Salami, Abbas Ja’aveleh, and Nazem Hashemi – died in a road accident in Ahwaz while returning from a poetry recital. They were also well known in Iraq because they had participated in a number of Shaabi poetry festivals”.(Suspicious Death of Iranian-Arab Poet Leads to Protests, n.d.)

The Arab Ahwazi poets mentioned here all met a similar fate. The Iranian regime does not tolerate any Ahwazi celebration of Arab culture, including the massively popular Arabic poetry in Ahwaz. Therefore most are sure that all of these popular poets were murdered. In addition to using their platform to represent their people in their poems, Ahwazi poets also preserved the traditional Ahwazi Shaabi poetry form by doing so. In my view, the poets have, to a large degree, exposed the falsity of the Iranian regime’s main narrative regarding monolingualism – that every Iranian citizen must learn, speak and write only in Farsi and that learning Arabic or other languages spoken by Iran’s ethnic minorities is a waste of time.

The Iranian regime is not entirely averse to using the Arabi language when expedient; however, encouraging Arabic-language Quran recitals, with the fate of reciters being diametrically different to that of poets; although both groups use Arabic, Iran’s theocratic regime has always fostered and paid special attention to Ahwazi Quran recitals, since these are among the finest in the Middle East and can be exploited to represent Iran for nationalist purposes. With the Iranian government striving to improve its image of Shiism in the Middle East, it presents these talented Quranic reciters who speak Arabic fluently in the most flattering of terms.

One example of this is the village of Abdulkhan in the Susa district of Ahwaz, which despite its extremely small size, has produced more than 30 Quran reciters who are celebrated by the regime. As reported by the regime’s Quran News Agency, one of the Ahwazi Quran reciters, “Seyed Jasem Moosavi, one of the top contenders, could advance to the Saudi Quran Contest finals”. (Co, n.d.) By this comparison of the stark difference between the regime’s treatment of Ahwazi poets and Quran recitals, I conclude that the Iranian regime embraces the Arabic language solely in religious contexts that serve its interests, such as Quran recitals. Ahwazi Arabs who excel in this field will be nurtured and promoted by the regime, being encouraged to enter global contests. By contrast, not only are Arab Ahwazi poets not encouraged to compete in Arabic literary contests, but their very existence is problematic for the regime. The first group advances the image of Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam, whereas the second empowers Ahwazis to embrace their Arab identity and advances Arabic literacy in the region.


The ‘danger’ narrative on Ahwazi neighbourhoods

The Iranian government has worked to establish a narrative according to which “ Ahwazi Arab neighbourhoods aren’t safe”, which it uses as a cultural tool to depict the Arab population as collectively ‘dangerous’ and to enforce their assimilation. Many colonial states have similarly used the powerful tool of enforced cultural assimilation to control their oppressed people. For example, anyone seeking entertainment or leisure facilities in Ahwaz city can easily find many safe, affordable options – so long as these entertainments and services are exclusively provided and run by Persians; there are plenty of easily accessible Persian cafes, restaurants and amusement parks. For the indigenous Ahwazi people or other Arabs, however, there is no such option for anyone wanting to find Arab restaurants and cafes or listen to Arabic music or poetry, which are proscribed by the regime and driven underground, even in this majority-Arab region; this proscription means that anyone providing or seeking Arab food or entertainment is taking a risk simply to do so, with the regime using this proscriptive environment to depict Arab areas as ‘unsafe’, To further enforce the assimilation of young Ahwazi Arabs, the Iranian authorities intentionally provide security solely for entertainment and leisure facilities in non-Arab areas. 

During the last Iranian New Year holiday, which is in March 2022, I decided to celebrate my birthday with friends in an Ahwazi Arab restaurant with live Arab music. Simply by making this decision, I knew I was taking a risk and putting myself in an unknown situation. Arab restaurants can be found in neighbourhoods in Khalafieh city, with street security provided by a large number of informal guards. One of these guards approached our car and, when he saw two men with us, permitted us to park and enter one of the restaurants.

Since the government does not provide security for these entertainment venues, the Ahwazi Arab venue owners must hire security personnel. Due to the fact that these venues charge extra to ensure the safety of their patrons, I was forced to pay a considerable amount for this particular evening’s entertainment. My friends, therefore, suggested that in the future, it would be better to go to safer, more affordable entertainment venues in Persian settlers’ neighbourhoods. That is exactly the effect desired by the ruling regime in introducing such policies, to encourage young  Ahwazi to shun ‘dangerous’ Arab culture and seek entertainment and assimilation in ‘affordable, safe’ Persian neighbourhoods. In this article, I’m hoping to further explain why entertainment areas in Ahwazi Arab neighbourhoods are known as dangerous by recalling a tragic incident from 2018.

On the evening of April 3, 2018, young mostly Ahwazi Arab customers gathered to drink coffee and relax at the busy Café Nawares in the Daryha neighbourhood of Ahwaz city, an area renowned as the birthplace of the 2005 Ahwazi Arab Uprising. With that day in 2018 being the seventh day of another outbreak of anti-regime protests across Ahwaz, the café, a popular meeting place for young Arab activists, writers and poets was crowded. Tragically, a fire, broke out there that night, killing 13 young patrons and seriously injuring another 14, with the blaze caused by arson in which the doors of the café were jammed shut before it began, trapping the victims inside.  

Just over 24 hours later, an Iranian state TV channel claimed that police had arrested the perpetrator, a young Arab man who ‘confessed’ to his crime on air; although the regime’s televised confessions are widely known to be extracted under torture, so there’s great scepticism over the regime’s version of events, especially given the location and timing. 

Despite these doubts, however, this tragedy was used by the regime to reinforce its constantly promoted narratives, firstly of Arab ‘backwardness’ and willingness to resort to violence rather than resolving disputes like the supposedly more civilised Persians, and thus requiring Persian control and ‘discipline.  

Secondly, the regime used this terrible event to underline its narrative of the need for people to be constantly aware that Ahwazi Arab neighbourhoods are innately dangerous and best avoided since lethal incidents of this nature could happen at any movement.



In conclusion, my research has analysed the criminalisation of Ahwazi Arabs in retaliation for their embrace and celebration of their Arab identity. Enforced assimilation is a weapon used explicitly by the Iranian regime in the education system and implicitly through culture. It is vital to understand that the predominant factor behind all the crimes committed by the Iranian regime against Ahwazi intellectuals, whether they were gathered in the Café Nawares or alone like Hassan Heideri, is an obsessive drive to silence these voices for fear of their popularity, with the regime using the false narrative of ‘uncivilised Arabs’ and ‘troublemaking separatists,’ to justify its inhumanity.

In Foucault’s view, power is everywhere: in our social structures, institutions, cultures, and anything that establishes expectations. While the Iranian powerbase has constantly attempted to enforce Ahwazi Arab assimilation with the dominant Persian culture, promoting the idea that such assimilation is essential if Ahwazi Arabs want to survive in Iran, it’s also essential to recall that, as noted above, whenever power relations exist, resistance is also inherent. In this essay, I’ve endeavoured to analyse and explain the ways in which Iran’s so-called Islamic Republic regime has criminalised any expression of Arab identity or cultural activity in the Ahwaz region.


By Maedeh Saki

Maedeh Saki is an Ahwazi graduate student in Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada. Maedeh tweets under @maedeh_Saki.




Foucault, Michel (1995) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Hiddleston, Jane (2014) Understanding post colonialism

 Gornall, Jonathan. Sharifi Maedeh, January 5, 2022, The Forgotten Arabs of Iran

Kallman, Meghan (2017) An Analysis of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish

Suspicious Death of Iranian-Arab Poet Leads to Protests, Iran wire

How Iran’s New Education Proposal Silences and Criminalizes Non-Persian Languages, Washington Institute, Fikra Forum (2019)

Education in Ahwaz: Children denied a future|Dialogue Institute for research and studies (2019). 

Why Ethnic Arabs Poured into Streets In Iran After Death Of A Young Poet, Radio Farda


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