In her issue brief for the Atlantic Council, “Iran’s Sunnis Resist Extremism, but for How Long?” Scheherezade Faramarzi discusses the current situation of Sunnis in Iran. While Faramarzi’s work is valuable given her fieldwork in Iran, in the view of this author, her piece contains errors and misleading information.
I agree with Faramazi that the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to properly integrate its Sunni population into the political system by depriving them of higher political positions such as cabinet ministries. However, I disagree with her presentation about the number of Sunnis in Iran, where they are concentrated and their socio-economic status in comparison to the majority Shia population.
According to Faramazi, “Some fifteen million of Iran’s eighty million people are Sunni Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority.” She suggests that according to Sunni leaders and observers, Iran’s Sunni population is somewhere between “12 to 25 percent” of the total population. My research suggests that the percentage is ten percent or about eight million people.
But judging from this analyst’s conversations with Iranian diplomats in Europe and New York over the past week, Macron and his colleagues in Germany and Britain may have an equally crucial task persuading Iran to remain within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if US President Donald J. Trump fails to reissue waivers of US sanctions on the next deadline, May 12.
Despite all the attention paid to the US-Iran aspect of the nuclear issue, Iran’s main expectation upon signing the JCPOA was that it would be able to restore and increase economic relations with Europe, traditionally Iran’s major trading partner.
Iran has been facing a crisis regarding water for many years and it’s far more existential than the nuclear program or the fate of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Almost every day in Iran, there are protests by farmers regarding water shortages and the diversion of this precious resource from one area to the other. The effects of a warming climate and lower precipitation over the years have exacerabated the problem but it cannot be fully blamed on meager or inconsistent rainfall. The human factor – especially mismanagement -- is the strongest cause for what Iran is facing now.
The US president has repeatedly cast himself as being on the Iranian people’s side, including amid widespread anti-government protests that took place in Iran in late December and January, and in a message to Iranians last October.
Iran’s optimal strategy would be to respond in a way that would mitigate domestic uproar and to the extent possible, protect the country from repercussions. Iran’s national security establishment seems to have come to a strategic decision to stay in the deal if the other parties do and try to isolate and outmaneuver Washington. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Iran would abrogate the JCPOA in its entirety. Rather, it may decide to take limited measures to demonstrate a level of strength and to test the international community’s response.
Kavous Seyed-Emami, a Canadian-Iranian and respected advocate for endangered species in Iran, died in detention in Evin prison in suspicious circumstances last month. Seven others, including an Iranian-American, Morad Tahbaz, remain in prison. All are associated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), the most respected conservation and environmentalist NGO in Iran.