One of Iran’s most oil-rich cities is also one of the prime examples of Iran’s mismanagement. Residents of the region were protesting after dust storms, repeated power failures and general mismanagement by the regime. They have suffered the loss of services and increased unemployment, despite the regime’s hopes that the lifting of sanctions would draw foreign investment to the area to update refineries and power stations, as well as fix deep ecological problems.
The protests have subsided, however, as Iranian security forces have declared all demonstration illegal. The protests had lasted for over 5 days, with video cellphone clips showing large gatherings and protestors calling for the resignation of the local governor. Demands for leaders from the regime to come see the problems for themselves also grew as the protests got larger.
Iranian state television highlighted the protests at first, with goal of putting the government of Rouhani in a difficult position. Most state television is dominated by hardliners. One local reporter even wore a protective mask against air pollution in protest. But increasing numbers of protestors caused state television to go silent.
In 2015, the World Health Organization said that Ahvaz was the most polluted city in the world. Ahvaz, home to roughly one million people, is surrounded by petrochemical factories that emit pollutants on a large scale. Additionally, a 15-year drought and poor dam planning has caused local marshes to dry up and increasing the level of dust particles in the air to record highs.
“We feel as if we live in a special zone, where the government only makes money from,” said Mobin Ataee, a local student. “It seems they would prefer people to leave so they can turn this whole area into an oil-business only region.”
On February 25, thousands again gathered in Ahvaz, protesting the presence of President Hassan Rouhani. The protestors are demanding a halt to all project rerouting river waters in this province to other areas, dam construction, drying lagoons, measures to resolve the water and power outages from dust storms, and immediate action to respond to air pollution.
Protesters wore masks as part of their protest against conditions in the region. Coinciding with Rouhani’s presence, workers of the Iran Steel Industrial National Group rallied outside the Ahvaz branch in their 11th day of consecutive protests near the Ahvaz airport. This rally was protesting the air contamination catastrophe in Khuzestan Province, skyrocketing unemployment and the state refusing to pay workers’ paychecks.
The gathering was held under strict security conditions. Security forces had blocked all roads leading to the protest site and downtown Ahvaz in an effort to prevent protestors from joining ranks. Placards called Rouhani out regarding his lack of follow-through on promises to the people of this region. The province has suffered from dust storms since 2001 and experts have said 35% of the dust storms are from local centers.