On July 15, the water crisis and officials’ ignorance to address the people’s dilemmas ignited a new round of protests in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan. To vent their frustration over the officials’ performance, many people took to the streets in various cities.
They peacefully marched and rallied in front of government offices. In response, authorities used tear gas and aerial shooting to disperse fed-up protesters. However, oppressive measures against thirsty citizens had the opposite effect and prompted protesters’ rage.
Therefore, locals continued their protests while they had nothing to lose. They blocked access roads in different cities to force officials to resolve their problems. Instead, authorities resorted to using live ammunition and directly targeted defenseless citizens leading to at least four deaths and dozens of injuries.
On the other hand, the government tried to downplay the protests through its propaganda apparatus. Authorities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders called demonstrators rioters, foreigners, hooligans, and separatists. They claimed that the protesters had opened fire on themselves to disturb the Islamic state’s reputation.
Furthermore, Deputy Provincial Governor for security affairs Valiollah Hayati rejected the death of three citizens, claiming these are fake news spread by anti-Islamic Revolution individuals. He also shifted blame from the security forces and accused protesters of murder.
“In recent incidents, only one innocent citizen was killed and that was due to rioters’ shooting toward a power transformer,” Hayati said in an interview with the Asr-e Iran website. “All provincial officials and ‘diligent’ Governor [Qassem Soleimani Dashtaki] are doing their best to manage and offset the water crisis.”
He also claimed that “this year, water sources have severely decreased across the country, and of course Khuzestan province, due to drought. However, government and provincial officials make every effort to reduce this water turmoil and provide the province’s required water.”
This is while water shortages are the direct result of officials’ mismanagement and failure. “How is it possible that we were drowned two years ago, but we do not have potable water this year? Previously, around 700 villages were scrambled with water turmoil. Currently, their number has reached 900 villages, and even cities face water turmoil,” said Hadi Savari, an activist.
Notably, there are several major rivers in the province including Karun, Karkheh, Dez, Bahmanshir, Jarrahi, Shawer, Zohreh, Semireh, Gargar, Shatit, and Neisan. However, the state-backed mafia has monopolized or dried these sources for financial privileges.
For instance, while the government is able to provide required potable water through Dez and Gotvand dams; however, the IRGC does not put its economic interests aside in favor of thirsty people. As an alternative, it responds to protesters with live ammunition.
However, the government has yet to quell protests, and outraged people continued their grievances for the fourth day in a row despite the officials’ oppressive measures and propaganda.
Moreover, the continuation of protests has terrified officials leading them to warn each other over the citizens’ ultimate purpose. “Khuzestan is getting smashed… President Hassan Rouhani is a precious symbol of faithlessness toward Khuzestan. He should be afraid of Khuzestani mothers’ cries and nomads’ tears,” said Mohammad Molavi, an MP from the city of Abadan, on July 18.
“Look at the southern provinces, Khuzestan is getting destroyed, and lack of management is obviously seen… Your government’s report is good for yourselves. In your report, you lay the blame on nature, low rainfall, and high temperature. Speak about your mismanagement and indifference. You have destroyed social assets,” he continued pointing to public hatred against the entire ruling system.
Majid Nasserinejad, another MP from Khuzestan province, criticized the Parliament (Majlis) presidium for refusing to hold an emergency session about the water crisis and protests in Khuzestan province. “Today, we expected the presidium… Khuzestan’s condition is not really good. Let the chief of government come here and respond to these problems. The head of the government [Rouhani] must respond here,” said Nasserinejad.
“How long should we wait for crisis and problems? How long should we wait for the enemy to enter and trigger riots? Our condition is worrying. The enemy frequently plans conspiracies in Khuzestan, seeking to make chaos there,” the MP declared his concerns over the government’s fragile circumstances and lack of social base.
In addition, Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash, a member of the Majlis’s Security and Foreign Affairs Commission, revealed the authorities’ concern and the water crisis’s consequences for the entire ruling system. He called on officials to resolve the problem immediately before it becomes too late.
“I say closely; be very careful about the events in Khuzestan!!! The smell of blood and conspiracy abounds. Open even all the water in Khuzestan to quench both thirst and the fire,” he tweeted on July 17.