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Between Sunni and Shi''a - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Recent events in the Arab world have been analyzed in some quarters as natural and inevitable given the region”s longing for political reform which will bring about governments reflecting the makeup of the people, with Syria ruled by a Sunni and Iraq by a Shi”a. Suggesting that sectarianism should prevail is deceitful. The Shah of Iran was Shi”a but a terrible ruler, Mohammed Ali developed Egypt but he was not Egyptian or even Arab, but Albanian. National leaders who belong to the same ethnicity or creed as the majority of their people aren’t always merciful and successful. Establishing a government based on race or creed, and some in Iraq are trying to nowadays, will distort the leadership and create a situation where color and faith not qualifications matter. Every political group will try to outbid the other and prove it is more Sunni or Shi”a than the competition.

Civilian ties are needed if modern societies are to rule themselves efficiently and not with ethnic and religious connections. On an international level, those who rely exclusively on coalitions based on sect or ethnicity and claim that Sunnis should unite and Shi”as cooperate are also mistaken. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was opposed to the countries of the Arabian Gulf, also Sunni, throughout the 1990s. Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser and Saudi Arabia feuded during the 1960s. Iran’s relations with its Shi”a neighbor Azerbaijan are tense compared to those it enjoys with its Sunni Pakistan.

Diving the Middle East into a homogenous Shi”a crescent and a Sunni rectangle and opposing sectarian or even ideological groupings is counter productive. Communism has long been plagued by internal strife with China and the Soviet Union warring until the end.

Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of current events in Iraq is the adoption of sectarianism by the majority as a basis for government. Free and fair elections will ensure the majority has a say on all matters of government. It does not need to set sectarian affiliation as the basis for authority.

Similarly, we need to fight the increasingly popular proposition to install a sectarian majority government in Syria. The government in Damascus wrongly reacted to events in Iraq after Saddam, especially when it facilitated the entry of what it refers to as resistance fighters unto Iraqi territory. In turn, those self-styled Sunni fighters proved problematic for the Syrian government.

A stable Syria is needed to guarantee the stability of the region. This can be accomplished by opposing sectarian fanaticism and its supporters and by encouraging the regime to endorse internal political reforms to safeguard the future of the country and its people.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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