In recent months, some Bahraini and Kuwaiti MPs have called on their governments and the international community to recognize the Iranian province of Ahwaz as an "occupied Arab country," and to provide aid to the Ahwaz Arab minority in its struggle for independence. Some even said that the Gulf countries were remiss in tackling this issue.
Ahwaz (Khuzestan), in southwest Iran near the Iraqi border, is geopolitically important because it is situated between Iran and the Arab world, and because its abundant energy resources are a key part of Iran's exports. The Ahwaz Arab minority groups are taking measures to secede from the central regime in Tehran or at least gain autonomy. These groups argue that the Iranian regime seeks to thwart the national ambitions of the Ahwaz Arab minority by ethnically cleansing the region of Arab residents and settling Persian Shi'ites in their place, arbitrarily arresting and executing Ahwazi activists (dozens have been executed to date); and working to eradicate all traces of Sunni Arab characteristics from the region.
(Image: Aranerdebilli.files.wordpress.com, May 2012)
The discussion in the Gulf press about Ahwaz is not new; articles on the issue appear frequently. Some harshly criticize the Iranian regime's oppressive policies there, and others call on the Arab and Gulf countries to support the Ahwaz minority as a way of blocking Iranian interference in their own affairs. Some have even published articles by Ahwaz groups making their case against the Iranian regime. What is new in this discourse is an attempt by MPs in Gulf countries to promote recognition of Ahwaz as an occupied Arab country.
In this context, it should be noted that these initiatives come alongside efforts by Ahwaz activists to promote Arab and international recognition of their province as an Arab country. In January 2016, a delegation of Ahwaz political officials headed by 'Aref Al-Ka'abi, leader of the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz (DSPA), held a series of meetings with officials from all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries but Oman. According to Al-Ka'abi, these meetings were aimed at raising awareness of the issue of Ahwaz and the suffering of its people, and at persuading the GCC states to recognize Ahwaz as an Arab country, as a prelude to its recognition by the Arab League. He also expressed hope that the Arab League would grant Ahwaz observer-state status. He also said that efforts will be made in international institutions and in the UN to promote an international resolution recognizing Ahwaz as an Arab country.
This report will review the details of the initiatives in Bahrain and Kuwait, and the responses to them:
Bahraini Parliament Initiative
In late December 2015, five Bahraini MPs submitted a proposal to the parliament speaker calling for recognizing Ahwaz as an Arab country under Iranian occupation. The proposal received the support of 40 additional MPs. The five MPs who submitted it stated: "Al-Ahwaz is one of the Arab countries situated in the eastern part of the Arab homeland, and in it is an Arab people with Arab roots... Today, Al-Ahwaz is a usurped Arab country, subject to the occupation of Iran, which is continuing to treat its [Ahwazi] people with merciless violence while taking advantage both of the Arab [world's] failure to play its part [in this matter] and of the conditions in the region and internationally that are destroying the unity of the [Arab] ummah..."
Protesting against the Iranian regime's violent oppression of the Arab Ahwazi people, the five said that this is aimed at eradicating the ancient Arab identity of the Ahwazi region, and added: "The Bahraini government must first urgently recognize Al-Ahwaz as an Arab country and strive to promote Gulf recognition of this country... Recognition of this Arab country should include economic and moral support in regional and international forums." Criticizing the Gulf countries for their "great impotence" on the Ahwaz issue, "even though it is fundamentally a Gulf state that completes the Gulf security array, and by doing so also completes the Arab security array," they said: "Al-Ahwaz's occupation by Iran has led to [Iranian] occupation of parts of the UAE as well (its three islands) and also to [Iranian] attempts to harm the security and stability of Bahrain. This comes along with its blatant and illegitimate interventions aimed at imposing its rule on Yemen and Iraq..."
The Bahraini proposal (image: Mirror.no-ip.org, December 29, 2015)
The proposal received the support of various Ahwazi elements. A group of Ahwazi politicians, media figures, and activists sent a thank-you letter to Bahraini parliament speaker Ahmed Al-Mulla congratulating him on the initiative. They said that it "will open up several possibilities for official political and legal action in the international and Arab arenas to internationalize the issue [of Ahwaz] and lead it to obtain official status in the corridors of international and civil society organizations... Although this courageous initiative arrives after suffering, oppression, persecution, and cruel oppressive policies that have afflicted our Ahwazi Arab people for nine decades, it carries extra weight because it expresses an official and exceptional Arab and international political position. This is especially true because it comes as Iran's boastfulness and arrogance is spiking, and as it violates all international and humanitarian principles, values, and practices in its treatment of the Arab and Islamic peoples."
They added: "The Ahwazi people sees this initiative as a crucial historic turning point in its just struggle to attain its usurped rights... [We call on] all Arab and Islamic parliaments, institutions, and official and unofficial organizations, particularly those in the Gulf [to adopt the initiative]."
Also welcoming the Bahraini initiative was Habib Jaber, leader of the National Organization for the Liberation of Ahwaz - an umbrella organization of several popular Ahwazi liberation movements - who said that the initiative "provides a swift response to the recommendations of the latest summit of the [November 28, 2015] National Organization for the Liberation of Ahwaz in Copenhagen." Jaber added that it was a "qualitative turning point" in the Ahwazi people's struggle for independence, and that it would "push other Arab parliaments to take similar steps." He even implied that in the near future, Arab elements will take "wide-scale and surprising steps" to bring the issue of Ahwaz to the center of Arab and international attention.
On the other hand, the Bahraini proposal was criticized by Iranian media, which depicted it as an aggressive move. For example, a report on the proposal by the Iranian news agency Fars, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was headlined "Al-Ahvaz Is Under Attack By Saudi Arabia and Bahrain."
Muhammad Al-'Amadi, one of the submitters of the Bahraini proposal (image: Al-Ayyam, Bahrain, December 31, 2015)
Kuwaiti Parliament Initiative
In late January 2016, about a month after the initiative was submitted in the Bahraini parliament, a similar initiative was presented in the Kuwaiti parliament. Kuwaiti MP Ahmad Muti' Al-'Aazmi called on the Kuwaiti government to recognize Ahwaz as an occupied Arab country and to open an Ahwazi Embassy in Kuwait. He stated: "We all know that Al-Ahwaz is an Arab country occupied in 1920 by the Persian entity during the reign of the Iranian Shah, with the aid of British colonialism... From the time of its occupation until today, its people have been subjected to all manner of torture, murder, and expulsion, as well as to attempts to eradicate the roots of Arab identity and practices by [attempting to impose] a foreign Persian identity and practices." He also called on other Gulf states to recognize the Ahwazi people's right to an independent country and its demand to secede from "the dictatorial Persian entity."
Kuwaiti MP Majid Musa Al-Mutairi also called on the international community to recognize Ahwaz as an Arab country.
Ahmad Muti' Al-'Aazmi (image: Gulfeyes.net, February 6, 2016)
Articles In Gulf Press Support Bahraini Initiative: Recognizing Ahwaz As An Arab State Will Strengthen Arabs Against Iran; Ahwaz Was Occupied Even Before Palestine
The Bahraini MPs' initiative received positive coverage in the Gulf press. For example, Iraqi journalist Daoud Al-Basri praised it in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyasa, and called it "an important strategic breakthrough that Arab parliaments, especially the Kuwaiti parliament and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, would do well to support and to pass on to international forums..." Al-Basri harshly criticized "the Arab world's reluctance to help on the matter of Al-Ahwaz and the ignorance of most of the Arab world on this matter, despite the fact that Al-Ahwaz was occupied even before Palestine and is a larger territory. Its strategic importance is no different than that of Palestine. With its resources, wealth, and location, Al-Ahwaz constitutes the eastern wing and depth of both the Gulf states and the Arab world. Since the 1964 [Arab League] Cairo summit recognized the Ahwazi Arab case, the Arab world has completely distanced itself from this sensitive issue, to the point that it was forgotten, even though it is one of the most serious, exact, and important means in the struggle against the arrogant, tyrannical Iranian regime, which exports terrorism and death to its neighbors..."
Al-Basri warned against squandering an opportunity to actualize the goals of the Bahraini initiative, which he called "central strategic goals that serve Gulf and national security..." and even stressed that "the Arab political system, unfortunately, made a fatal error by ignoring the Ahwazi issue..." Finally, Al-Basri called on the Arab world "to prepare to accept a new member [to its ranks], the addition of which will play an important role in strengthening Arab might, constructing a powerful regional system, and reversing many existing negative trends."
Similarly, Jama'an Al-Ghamdi, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Sharq, welcomed the initiative, adding that "the activity of the members of this Arab race, especially together with other races in Iran, will be the most truly effective way to influence Iran and cause it to shrink to its original Persian dimensions and nothing more. In my opinion, this could be the only solution to Iranian violations and the wave of Persian expansionism."
* E. Ezrahi is a research fellow at MEMRI
 See, for example, Al-Watan (Bahrain), January 10, 2016.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5776, 'Al-Hayat' Deputy Editor: Gulf States Should Help Al-Ahwaz Secede From Iran, June 19, 2014; and MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 562, Saudi-Iranian Tension Increases Following Clashes Between Houthi Rebels, Saudi Military, November 15, 2009.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5904, Saudi Media Campaign Denounces 'Ethnic Minority Oppression' In Iran, December 15, 2014.
 An Ahwazi opposition group that aims to secede from Iran and attain independence for the Ahwazi people.
 Al-Siyasa (Kuwait), January 23, 2016.
 Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), December 29, 32, 2015; Mirror.no-ip.org, December 29, 2015.
 Iran and the UAE both claim sovereignty over three islands in the Gulf - Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa.
 Earlier calls by Bahraini MPs to support the Ahwazi people because of the Iranian regime's treatment of them include one in 2011, that came against the backdrop of Iran's support for the Shi'ite uprising in Bahrain, which erupted the same year. On that occasion, Salafi Bahraini MPs Ghanem Abu 'Einin and Jassem Al-Sa'idi announced their intention to dispatch aid ships to the Ahwazi people in Iran, who they said were experiencing racial and ethnic discrimination. Abu 'Einin said that after obtaining the necessary permits, the Salafi association would send two ships carrying food and medical aid. Al-Sa'idi said that preparations were underway to send a mobile hospital to treat Ahwazi patients being denied care in Iranian hospitals. See Alarabiya.net, May 15, 2011.
 Al-Ayyam (Bahrain), January 3, 2016.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 30, 2015.
 Fars (Iran), December 30, 2015.
 Al-Qabas (Kuwait), January 31, 2016.
[ 13] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), February 1, 2016.
 Al-Siyasa (Kuwait), January 3, 2016.
 Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), January 5, 2016.