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Saudi media throws weight behind Iran's Arab separatists

Saudi Arabia launched Persian-language television and radio stations last month [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 October, 2015

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Blog: The Saudi Press Agency appears to have come out in support of the separatist movement in western Iran, the latest blow in the bitter rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran.
Saudi Arabia continued its recent media campaign against Iran on Sunday after its state-run news agency ran a report on a rally in Austria calling for the independence of the Iranian province of Khuzestan.

The Saudi Press Agency [SPA] reported that hundreds of protesters gathered outside the UN headquarters in Vienna on Friday to call for an end of "the killing of non-Persians and human rights violations" in Khuzestan.

Khuzestan province, known in Arabic as al-Ahwaz, in western Iran, is home to a large Arab population, many of whom have long sought to establish a separate state.

     The nuclear deal with Iran gives it a green light to commit more crimes against non-Persians and incite sectarian strife in Arab countries
- Habib Jabr

"Iran is responsible for the violence and terrorism in the region, it is a rogue state that exports terrorism," SPA quoted Habib Jabr, the head of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz, as saying.

"The nuclear deal with Iran gives it a green light to commit more crimes against non-Persians and incite sectarian strife in Arab countries," Jabr added.

The head of the separatist movement called on the international community to pressure Iran to end what he called "its unjust treatment of al-Ahwaz's Arab population", estimated at between 2.5 and 5 million.

Khuzestan province also holds much of Iran's oil and gas reserves.

Despite Khuzestan's natural resource wealth, the province is plagued with severe socioeconomic deprivation and high levels of air and water pollution.

Concentrated in poor urban outskirts lacking in basic facilities, many Iranian Arabs have alleged that the government systematically discriminates against them, particularly in employment, housing, access to political office, and the exercise of cultural, civil and political rights.

The inability to use their mother language as a medium of instruction for primary education is also a source of deep resentment and frustration.

In April, the Saudi state-run satellite channel al-Ekhbariya aired a short documentary that described al-Ahwaz as "under occupation by Persian forces".

The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya published a commentary entitled Arab Ahwaz must be liberated from Iran in March. The op-ed was penned by Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor.

"Iran's policy of ethnic discrimination combined with its Persian resettlement endeavours has resulted in turning the Ahwazi Arabs into an economic and social underclass," wrote Habtoor.

Human rights groups have recently expressed alarm at arrests of Ahwazi Arabs by Iranian security forces.

In a move perceived by many observers as a media offensive, Saudi Arabia launched Persian-language television and radio stations last month to cover the Hajj pilgrimage, and the SPA will soon begin reporting in Persian.

Iran has had a head-start in the media war between the states; in 2003 it launched the Arabic-language news channel al-Alam.

The state-run Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency and pro-government agencies Fars News Agency and Tasnim News Agency also publish news in Arabic.

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