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Monday, 4 June 2012

Sunni Versus Shia Today [E]

 regimes preaching an all-inclusive Arab nationalist identity, differences between religious communities were subordinated. Once there are Islamist regimes, theology becomes central again, as it was centuries ago.
- By Barry Rubin (edited by Paul Murphy)
... as long as there were secular-style
The growing power and influence of Iran's Islamist regime posed a tremendous problem for Arab Sunni Islamists. They generally did not like Iran because it was Persian and Shia, yet it was the only Islamist game in town. Thu, Arab Sunni Islamist Hamas became an Iranian client. The Iran-Iraq war reflected these antagonisms, as best seen in Iraqi propaganda. Yet Iraq's regime was also able to keep the Shia majority there under control.

Saddam Hussein's removal by a U.S.-led international intervention opened up the question of confessional relations in Iraq. The Arab Shia were inevitably going to win any election, given their three-to-one advantage over the Sunni and the Kurds opting out for what is, in effect though not name, their own state in the north. Despite the terrorist, anti-American, and al-Qaida elements of the Sunni insurgency, it was essentially a last-ditch attempt by the Sunnis to reclaim power. It failed and while violence continues, the main Sunni emphasis will be on negotiating the best possible division of power.

In Lebanon, the Shia triumphed too, led by Hizballah and aided by Syria and Iran. But all of this was prelude to the year 2011. The "Arab Spring" was an overwhelmingly Sunni affair, their own equivalent in some ways of Iran's 1979 revolution. Only in Bahrain, where they were repressed, did the Shia take the offensive.

Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya all had Sunni insurgencies against Sunni Arab governments. The situation in Syria is far more complex with an Alawite non-Muslim regime that pretends to be Shia Muslim and is allied with Iran, opposed by a variety of rebels. Nevertheless, in this context, the upheaval is a Sunni-led (though far from just Islamist) revolt against a "Shia" regime...
The key element here is the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that doesn't like Shia Muslims in general and Iran in particular. Little events, like Brotherhood guru Yusuf al-Qaradawi's support for the Sunni regime in Bahrain against the Shia opposition, show the direction of their thinking. The even more radical Salafists — a term now used for the small revolutionary Islamist groups, are even more anti-Shia. One factor here is the continued unwillingness of the majority of Arab states to welcome Shia-ruled Iraq into their ranks. Iraq is not going to become a satellite of Iran. It certainly feels more comfortable in a Shia bloc but will probably continue to be relatively uninvolved in regional affairs.
Can these blocs unite effectively against the United States, the West or Israel? In a word: No. Their power struggles for regional power and for control of individual states (Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, and to a far lesser extent Iraq) will keep them in conflict. Even on the anti-Israel consensus each side will seek to exploit it for their own, often conflicting, interests.

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