March 19, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2256

Leading Saudi Daily: Iran Was Once a Sunni Country

March 19, 2009
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 2256

Recent statements by Iranian officials claiming sovereignty over certain areas of the Gulf [1] have further exacerbated the ongoing conflict between the Iranian axis and the Saudi-Egyptian axis. [2] As part of this conflict, the Saudi daily Al-Watan published a harsh article by the head of its Riyadh branch, Suleiman Al-'Uqeili, about Iran's Sunni past. The article, titled "The Rights of the Sunnis in Iran," states that Iran was once a Sunni country, but that its Sunni population had been forced to convert to the Shi'a during the 16th century.

Following are excerpts from the article:

Iran Was Sunni Until the 16th Century

"Until the 10th century after the Hijra (i.e. the 16th century CE), Iran was a Sunni country. When the Safavid Shah Ismail [1] rose to power in the [Muslim] year of 907 [1502 AD], he forced the Sunnis to convert to the Shi'a [by] offering them a choice between conversion and death. He was very zealous [in pursuing this mission], and did not hesitate to order the murder of anyone who disobeyed his directive or failed to comply with it. It is said that over a million Sunnis were killed [during his reign]. The policy of persecution against the Sunnis continued throughout the [subsequent] eras in Persia, and [it still continues today,] after the Islamic Revolution.

"Although a million and a half of Tehran's native residents are Sunni, they do not have a single mosque in which to pray, or [a single] center in which to congregate. At the same time, [Tehran does have] Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and Zoroastrian temples. A Sunni Muslim citizen cannot hold a senior position in the [Iranian] state, even if he is very knowledgeable and enjoys broad public support..."

"Intense [Efforts] Are Underway to 'Persianize' the Arab Region of Khuzestan (Arabistan) and the Oil-Rich City of Al-Ahwaz"

"Intense [efforts] are underway to 'Persianize' the Arab region of Khuzestan (Arabistan), and the oil-rich city of Al-Ahwaz, [although] it is situated in the southwest of Iran where the majority of population is Sunni Arab. This is being done by evicting Arab residents, particularly Sunnis, from their homes, and settling families of Persian origin in their place. Sunni regions, in both western and eastern Iran (i.e. in Baluchistan), are being subjected to a policy of intentional marginalization, [implemented by non-] development and by excluding their residents from [government] positions.

"This racist attitude applies not only to Sunnis but to all Arabs [in Iran]. There are jokes ridiculing Arabs, and janitors (most of whom are Arabs), are forced to wear a ghutra [a local Arab headdress], in order to humiliate them and also to distinguish them from the rest of the Iranians. When I visited Iran in 2002, I had an Iraqi driver and interpreter. He complained that the Iranians treated Arabs badly and despised them, and said he wished he did not live in Teheran…"

"In Iran, Arab and Sunni Clerics and Leaders Are Killed, [Arab] Social Activists are Arrested, and There Are Attempts to Restrict the Arab Culture - Yet International Human Rights Organizations Remain Silent"

"In Iran, Arab and Sunni clerics and leaders are killed, [Arab] social activists are arrested, and there are attempts to restrict the Arab culture, yet international human rights organizations remain silent - as though they are in league with the regime of the mullahs. We have heard nothing on this subject except for some feeble protests over what [happened to] the Iranian lawyer [and human rights activist] Shirin Ebadi. The last time [the treatment] of Sunni Arabs in Iran was condemned was four years ago, when the Human Rights Watch organization, in its 2005 international report… [stated] that 'ethnic and religious minorities in Iran are still subjected to discrimination and even oppression.'"

"The Iranian Regime Will Not Stop Interfering in the Affairs of the Neighboring [Countries]"

"Even though the Iranian [establishment] is as fragile [as] a glass [castle], the Iranian regime will not stop interfering in the affairs of the neighboring [countries]. It infiltrates [their] cultural and media institutions, incites minorities, spreads sectarian [ideology], forms religious parties, sinks its claws into the internal politics [of Arab countries], and persists in supporting Sunni extremism in order to undermine [their] internal and social stability."


[1] In a February 10, 2009 speech in Mashhad marking 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said: "In the era of the incompetent [Shah] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, one of our provinces was taken from us: what is known today as the country called 'Bahrain'... Back then, Bahrain was the 14th province [of Iran], and even had its own representative in the Majlis..." (Khorasan, Iran, February 11, 2009).
Iran and the Gulf states are also disputing over sovereignty over the three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Moussa.
[2] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 492, "An Escalating Regional Cold War - Part I: The 2009 Gaza War," February 2, 2009, An Escalating Regional Cold War – Part I: The 2009 Gaza War.
[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 23, 2009.

Share this Report:


MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization.  All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.