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Opinion: The Arab region has reached the point of no return | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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One of the Yemeni activists paints graffiti on a wall in a street during a campaign against what they call “civil war” in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, faces huge problems on several fronts. Authorities are leading a war against al-Qaida’s local branch, considered by Washington as one […]

It is becoming clear that it is pointless to keep dealing with crises of coexistence in the Mashreq as though they were individual cases. There is only one big picture, albeit with many smaller details. Without having to tediously list the incidents taking place in the region on a daily basis, I presume that any rational person has become aware of the presence of political currents that have swept up the entire Middle East and taken it to the point of no return. Unless they are defeated or reach a dead end, these political currents will continue with their individual projects.

So far none of the minor players have realized they have come to a dead end or that they have lost their gambles. Thus, we should expect these minor players to keep destroying their countries in order to benefit the interests of their major backers, who have enough reserves to allow them room to maneuver, and who enjoy adequate space to offer trade-ins and compromises at the expense of their minor dependents.

The big picture of the region is one of a Shi’ite-dominated political trend that is both subservient to and controlled by Iran, which is seeking to extend its influence and make as many gains as possible through the use of force. Supporters of this trend justify their forceful approach on the pretext of fighting against the radical, indeed “terrorist,” reactions of the Sunni populations.

This Shi’ite-dominated political trend has been justifying itself using all sorts of pretexts, which vary depending on the time, place and individual circumstances in each of the situations that trend involves itself with. For example, in Iraq it has raised the banner of “democracy” and “human rights,” exploiting two things: first, the fact that the Shi’ite population constitutes a majority and, second, Saddam Hussein’s infamous human rights record.

Since Saddam claimed to fight for Arab nationalism and encouraged the development of military capabilities to strike Israel, his opponents in Shi’ite-dominated political groups refused to resort to anti-Israeli vitriol. Indeed, the “Likudniks” in the Pentagon were at the forefront of lobbies pushing for the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam after Israel bombed his nascent nuclear facilities.

A few days, or rather hours, after the invasion of Iraq was completed, members of what was then called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Da’wa Party, as well as other Shi’ite groups, returned from their Iranian exile to US-occupied Iraq. They then joined the Iraqi Governing Council and today are the country’s de facto rulers.

In Syria, however, the Assad dynasty has adopted different slogans, such as “pan-Arabism,” “socialism,” and the “Zionist enemy” towards which there is much animosity. The Syrian regime—very much a part of the above-mentioned Shi’ite trend, albeit under the label of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party—stood against Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War, despite the fact that Iraq was an Arab country governed by the same party. It also left the Golan Heights under Israel’s occupation, preferring to move west in order to occupy Lebanon, which is exactly what Hezbollah did later: the Shi’ite militia left Shaba’a farms under Israeli occupation, dedicating itself instead to the “liberation” of Al-Qusayr, a town in Syria.

Why are the buzzwords in Syria’s case different? Why is “secularism” another widely trumpeted slogan? It is because Sunnis make up the majority of the Syrian population. When the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, the Assad regime proclaimed the “protection of minorities” among its goals, although its crimes in the persecution of minorities in Lebanon, including assassination, incarceration and displacement, are well documented. Furthermore, despite its claims to be “secular,” the Assad regime has sponsored an overtly religious–sectarian party, Hezbollah, forging an alliance with it within both Lebanon and Syria.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has used the slogans of “resistance” and “liberation,” both of which are monopolized by this Shi’ite trend in the same way it monopolized the right to possess weapons in the aftermath of the Taif Agreement of 1989. Incidentally, those who ignited the spark of armed resistance against Israel in Lebanon were predominantly members of secular parties; even the Shi’ites among them were never part of Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, in Yemen the Shi’ite Houthis are rapidly extending their influence in the North, thanks to Iran, while the Islamic Republic is also providing tactical support to ex-Marxist Southerners and Northern splinter groups under the banner of “federalism” or on the pretext of confronting “Salafists.” In this regard, it must be noted that the mistakes of the former Yemeni regime helped to weaken the national fabric of Yemen, in addition to the central government. Moreover, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh concentrated power in his own hands and those of his close circle, which led to mounting anger not only among minorities, but also among Sunni tribes who now feel they were wronged during Saleh’s tenure, which lasted more than 33 years.

Still, it is perhaps a remarkable paradox that the two main groups Iran is backing in Yemen are ideologically at odds: the Shi’ite Houthis, whose militia is named Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), and the ex-Marxists in the Sunni-majority South.

A situation like this must be extremely frustrating to Sunnis across the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. This sense of frustration has led to the emergence of a population worried about its future, as well as creating fertile ground for radical Sunni terrorist groups that rejoice in murder and attempt to justify genocide. Following the collapse of the social and national trust necessary for coexistence, external extremist elements, which are resentful, misled and even suspect, have managed to establish themselves, thus accelerating the spread of a “war of extermination” mentality that thrives on extremism and reprisal.

After so many rivers of blood, the Shi’ite-dominated political trend realizes today there is no going back. On the other hand, the Sunni public will most certainly not allow their political and human sacrifices go down the drain. Thus, we are at a point of no return. It is characterized by the eagerness of radical Shi’ites to push their opponents further and further, and consequently force them into justifying terrorism, which will eventually antagonize the international community. According to their calculations, the radical Shi’ites believe they will win on two levels.

On the international level, they depict their radical Sunni opponents as posing a threat to regional and international peace, which would surely win them the support of the international community as they share common interests through fighting a common enemy: takfirist terrorism.

On the Shi’ite level, the greater the oppression being practiced and the more blood that is shed, the less chance dissatisfied moderate Shi’ites will object, let alone oppose, the dominance of radicals, especially when the alternative is unruly extremist Sunni groups that declare others infidels and justify murder by referring to religion and sect. This is exactly what Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and Iraqi President Nuri Al-Maliki have been stressing in their speeches.—not to mention the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs and the Houthi wave in Yemen.