Protests

Iranian regime fails to snuff out deepening water crisis protests

By Babak Dashti

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Iranians gather in Esfahan city in late November to voice their anger after Esfahan province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion. [Fatmeh Nasr/ISNA/AFP]

Popular protests in Esfahan province against the Iranian regime's mismanagement of the country's water crisis and its diversion of river water, which has exacerbated the shortage, have reached a crescendo.

The protests, which began in mid-November, are continuing despite the presence of security forces, who on Friday (November 26) and for the next two days fired tear gas and bullets at those taking part in the demonstrations.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday said the United States was "deeply concerned" about the crackdown in Esfahan that saw dozens arrested amid protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river.

"The people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable," he said.

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Iranians gather in protest over the ongoing and severe drought in Esfahan on November 27. [Mashregh.ir]

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Protesters take part in a demonstration over the Iranian regime's mishandling of a severe drought in the central Iranian city of Esfahan on November 27. [ISNA]

Videos circulating on social media show demonstrators in the dry bed of the Zayanderud river, which runs from the Zagros mountains and through the city, chanting "We won't go home until there's water in the river!"

"Death to Khamenei!" some chant. "Where is my Zayanderud?!" ask others.

'Pray for rain'

High-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic have remained silent in the aftermath of the attack on Esfahan protesters by security forces.

The protesters had been taking part in a rally to support the Esfahan Farmers Union, which has been staging a sit-in to draw attention to the dire conditions they face, when they were assaulted.

While top officials remained mum on the violence, Ahmad Alam-ol-Hoda, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad -- and Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi's father-in-law -- addressed the incident on the same day.

During his pre-prayer sermon, he noted that "the water problem will not be solved by demonstrations".

"These demonstrations are useless before God," he said. "Instead, pray for rain."

Videos circulating online show security forces firing tear gas and using batons to suppress and disperse protesters.

They show a group of Esfahan youth clashing with security forces, primarily forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the IRGC-affiliated Basij Resistance Forces paramilitary group.

Friday's rallies followed the release of an open letter inviting the public to protest at the Zayanderud riverbed.

While most domestic media outlets have so far remained silent about the protests and ensuing clashes, state-run Fars News Agency claimed the rally was organised by "anti-revolutionary elements".

It also implied the farmers union protests that triggered the rally had spontaneously ended, though this was not the case.

Torching farmers' tents

Meanwhile, domestic media have largely covered the Esfahan Farmers Union protest.

The sit-in, which went on for several weeks, has seen local farmers setting up tents along the Zayanderud riverbed and protesting the severe water crisis.

But the farmers were forced to end their sit-in when security forces attacked the demonstration on Wednesday evening and torched the tents of the protesters.

Members of the public marched to Zayanderud on Friday to hold a peaceful rally in support of the farmers, but were met with oppressing forces.

Videos circulated on social media show security forces firing at people.

After many weeks of silence, Hassan Karami, commander of the special unit of the regime's law enforcement (NAJA), on Sunday finally admitted that 67 people had been arrested for protesting in Esfahan.

Karami said these individuals, whom he described as the "main agents and provocateurs" of the protests, have been detained by the "inconspicuous intelligence agents of the special unit".

He blamed "dissidents, monarchists and the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group" for the unrest.

Additional drought protests

"Officials ignored years of warnings about modifying the pattern of water consumption in industry and agriculture sectors," water expert Mohsen Shams said of the situation in Esfahan and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari provinces.

The stoppage of ongoing water transfer and water management projects across the country also is to blame, the Iran-based expert told Al-Mashareq.

Residents of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province have taken similar action to those in Esfahan, protesting the transfer of water from their province to others, including Yazd and Esfahan.

In July, a widespread protest in Khuzestan province against the Iranian regime's mismanagement of the severe drought and water transfer projects ended after a week, following a severe crackdown.

Shams said successive Iranian administrations have been so busy dealing with political issues, pursuing expansionist policies and confronting internal dissent, that they have not paid attention to Iran's most important issues.

These include insufficient water resources, he said.

The Iran Meteorological Organisation estimates that about 97% of the country is dealing with some level of drought.

Instead of tackling these issues, however, the Islamic Republic's consistent approach has been to temporarily suppress protests as they occur in order to buy itself time and ensure its survival for a few more years, Shams said.

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The governments that don’t respect their peoples, by not allowing them to protest against all forms of injustice, will disappear.

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