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Opinion: Sunnistan and Shi’itestan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Some of the articles and analyses of Western experts urge one—although I disagree with them—to reconsider firm convictions or ideas that have been consolidated by virtue of geography or history. Among these ideas and theories which have been proposed amid the storms raging through the region is the redrawing of borders, thus giving rise to new political entities in the style of the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided and demarcated the borders of the countries in the Fertile Crescent. However, such ideas now appear as intellectual fantasies, or based on conspiracy theories.

The Middle East is boiling and this is nothing new. Putting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict aside, the region’s modern history teems with conflicts and even full-scale wars that took on an international dimension—such as the 2003 Iraq War. This is not to mention the ongoing civil wars and armed conflicts that took on new dimensions with the involvement of terrorist and Takfirist groups. However, no one ever mentioned re-making the map for the region. This begs the question: Why broach this subject following the wave of 2011 uprisings that mainly revolved around societal demands and had nothing to do with racial or sectarian issues?

In an article published in Western newspapers such as New York Times and London’s Times the researcher Robin Right cites the remarks of the UN special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, to the UN Security Council in July about Iraq being a “fault line between the Shi’a and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Wright maintains that the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province in Iraq “may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority…they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shi’itestan.”

It is worth noting that geographical and political entities are not necessarily timeless realities. And we have seen in the ancient history empires that disintegrated and collapsed after they rose and dominated. We have also seen in the recent history cases of geopolitical separations taking place in different forms based on the level of societal development, either with blood and destruction as was the case with the breakup of Yugoslavia, or in a peaceful and civilized manner as was the case when Czechoslovakia became two republics.

The Middle East is not far from that and this is evidenced by the recent example of Sudan, which was split into two states under a peace agreement following decades of struggle. Racial and religious differences were among the reasons for this separation regardless of its form.

In the meantime, particularly regarding the geographical nature of the so-called Fertile Crescent, sectarianism with all its evils and extreme violence came onto the scene whether in Iraq or Syria. Despite the fact that sectarianism was not previously as overt and widespread, it appeared due to the political exploitation practiced by some groups and factions, or even regimes struggling to remain in power. This is evidenced by what happened in Syria when peaceful protests turned, under the pressure of violence, into a sectarian civil war.

Another issue associated with this case is represented by the marked weakness of state sovereignty in some places. This has created insecure areas and enclaves along the borders as well as security vacuum which terrorist groups exploit, depleting countries and aggravating the region’s vulnerability.

Nothing is to be ruled out. However, thinking about disintegration is a recipe for tension and turmoil that may last for another hundred years, leading—instead of “Sunnistan” and “Shi’itestan”— to “Chaosistan,” where chaos will devour the entire region.

The future lies in eliminating the causes of tensions and in the modernization process that will develop the economies and societies. It also lies in searching for creative solutions for some of the long-standing and accumulated problems, such as the concept of the federal government in Yemen which has been circulated in order to meet demands for secession.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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