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Escalating Sectarian Conflicts - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The row taking place between preachers of the Sunni and Shiite sects has been escalating recently. A Shiite Imam publicly insults the mother of the faithful Sayyida Aisha, whipping the Sunnis into a frenzy that forced the Kuwaiti government to strip this Shiite Imam of his citizenship, ban public gatherings, and even close mosques following prayers. The Sunnis then took their attacks on the beliefs of the Shiites onto our television screens, igniting a verbal battle between the two sides to the point that the situation is now ripe for a genuine battle.

Is this a natural state of affairs due to globalizations, where satellite television and internet forums are relatively new in comparison with the different and distinguishing historical beliefs and religious interpretations of the Sunnis and Shiites that have not changed for around 1,400 years? Or is this due to political exploitation [of the situation] reflecting the conflict that is taking place between two regional parties that represent sectarianism?

We are standing over a sectarian corpse, and we have no evidence as to who committed the crime; all we can do is look for a motive and try to see who would benefit from this. The political tension in the region encourages each side to use all available means to circumvent the other. Whilst it is true that this excessive sectarian tension provisionally serves the interests of both sides, its long-term results will be extremely harmful and not in anybody’s interests. Recent history – and the blood that has been spilt in the region which has yet to dry – shows that the Al Qaeda organization today is the son of the Jihadist movement that fought the forces of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This religious war has continued, even if its features have changed.

In our region Sectarianism reaching boiling-point aids Iran in mobilizing the feelings of the Shiites in the Gulf States, and helps them to pick a war with the Sunnis. When fundamentalist Shiite groups come out to insult Sunni religious figures and provoke the feelings of the Sunnis community, this is something that strains the relationship between citizens of different sects. This is in Tehran’s interest as it puts pressure on the governments of the Gulf State and threatens their stability. Iran also openly sought to create a Shiite religious [parliamentary] front in Iraq in order to change the makeup of the Iraqi parliament in their favor, as well as increase the tension between the Sunnis and Shiites, which as we previously stated is something that serves Iran at this stage.

While on the other side of the map, there are those who think that tension with the Shiites is also politically useful, as this allows them to lay siege to the [regional] parties that are affiliated to Iran, like Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Sectarian tension is useful today in confining the Sunni Hamas movement that is supported by Iran, and putting an end to the influence of Hezbollah in the Arab world, especially as not so long ago Hezbollah was the most popular and influential group on the minds of the Sunni youth.

This is a sectarian conflict that is being built upon historical wars that can be easily exhumed and exploited by the political combatants in the region. It is in Iran’s interests to strain the relationship between the Shiites and Sunnis in the Gulf; in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and also Iraq. The same applies for those on the other side of the map, however unfortunately these politicians that believe that the end justifies the means are sowing the seeds for future wars that could last for more than a hundred years and will harm everybody without exception.

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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