My colleague, Fahmi Huwaidi, recently wrote an interesting article for Asharq Al-Awsat entitled “The Salafists: Between Those Who Fear Them and Those Who Fear for Them.” In this article, Huwaidi criticized the position of the Egyptian Salafists on the new Egyptian government’s move towards normalizing relations with Iran. He pointed out that the Salafists’ warnings against Iranian influence and missionary activities will only serve to further incite sectarian tension. Huwaidi also noted that the Salafists—whether they know it or not—are siding with the US–Israeli requests to tighten the embargo on Iran aimed at breaking Tehran’s intransigence towards Washington and Tel Aviv.
If one were to mention these ideas and ask me to guess who had come up with them, I would not hesitate to answer that they were put forward by the president of the Iranian Republic, or by Hassan Nasrallah; without exaggeration, I might even attribute the ideas to Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem. These ideas are the same clichés put forward by Iran and its regional allies in response to those who warn of Tehran’s plans to extend its influence in the region. The only difference is the fact that Huwaidi does not use the term “resistance,” which is frequently repeated by the leaders of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to justify their support for the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Despite his non-use of this term, Huwaidi’s discourse has precisely the same objective as this.
I very much doubt that Huwaidi does not realize that Shi’ite missionary activities lie at the core of Iran’s strategy to extend its influence. It imitates Western colonization in which missionaries played a more significant role than the soldiers in terms of extending political, military and economic influence. Egypt, whose Muslim community was until recently completely Sunni, now has a Shi’ite community tens of thousands strong. The same can be said about Tunisia, Algeria and most of the Maghreb countries—if not the entire Sunni world.
I have frequently said that when we warn—in concert with the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Al-Azhar, and the majority of Muslim scholars and intellectuals—against Shi’ite missionary activities in the Sunni world, this is not for sectarian reasons, as Huwaidi and the Iranian propagandists claim. Rather, it is in order to contain, as much as possible, the sectarian confrontation in countries that until recently had no Shi’ite presence. In addition to this, we are also seeking to restrict the consequences of Iran’s expanding influence, while the situation unfolding in Syria is a perfect example of the consequences of Iranian interference.
We regret that Huwaidi has failed to differentiate between the natural co-existence that has existed for centuries between the majority of Sunnis and Shi’ites—to the point that some people were not even aware of their neighbors’ sectarian identity—and the ideological activity that the Qom regime is spending billions of Iranian riyals to promote. Iran’s ideological promotion has covered all of the Sunni countries, threatening the harmony of the religious and sectarian blend there. I wish Huwaidi would inquire about Iran’s missionary activities in the African Sunni countries and in Indonesia. However, since he is well-informed, he cannot be ignorant of Iran’s conspicuous activities in this regard.
The ball now is in Fahmi Huwaidi’s court; he has been severely critical of the Salafi movements and the Saudi scholars for their position on the Tehran regime. This is not to suggest that he should relinquish the right to criticize; however, he should ensure a balanced outlook and also direct criticism towards the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. He must know that both Tehran and Hezbollah have joined the bloodletting in Syria and denied its people their basic rights. We would like Huwaidi to follow in the footsteps of not just the Salafists, but also of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and Al-Qaradawi, and ask Iran to refrain from spreading the seeds of dissent through its missionary activities in the Sunni world. Only then will we understand Huwaidi.