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Soft Wars - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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There are ‘hot wars’, which are known throughout world as direct military confrontations between organized armies. Famous examples of such include the two World Wars, and on a regional scale; the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, amongst others.

There are also ‘cold wars’, which came to prominence during the second half of the 20th century. This type of conflict took place between the Western camp, led by the United States, and the Eastern bloc, under the leadership of the Soviet Union, which rapidly deteriorated and collapsed.

Nowadays, there is no military force comparable or equivalent to that of the US. Therefore, the outbreak of another Cold War is somewhat inconceivable. Today, an appropriate term is being used describe another phenomenon, namely the confrontation between a superpower and a regional power, albeit in a remote location. The term used in this context is a “soft war”. In fact, the current events taking place in the Ivory Coast can be interpreted as a scene in the soft war between the US and Iran.

The US supports the choice of Alassane Ouattara as the new President of the Ivory Coast, on account of his legitimate victory in the presidential elections. Meanwhile Iran, via a Shiite Lebanese community residing in the Ivory Coast, is lending its support to the current President, Laurent Gbagbo, and his powerful army. The Lebanese population in the Ivory Coast exceeds 100,000, and follows Hezbollah as its primary reference. The community enjoys tremendous economic influence, and vast wealth, mainly due to the diamond trade. The Lebanese also have a well documented, deep-rooted relationship with President Gbagbo. Thus, Iran has offered material, moral and military support to the current President. Iran dispatched its African Unit Commander in the Quds Force, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, along with some African militias, to the Ivory Coast. They were immediately incorporated into the National Guard, to control the public and shoot upon them if necessary. The deal was struck via the leverage and influence of a large group of Lebanese businessmen, living in Ivory Coast, and holding strong relations with the regime. Their aim is to obtain the permission of the government to spread the Shiite doctrine among the large Muslim population concentrated in the north of the country. Of course, those Lebanese businessmen have obtained immense sums of money from Iran to enable them to do so.

The demographic breakdown of the Ivory Coast shows that Muslims make up around 60 percent of the overall population, whereas Christians constitute about 30 percent. The remaining 10 percent is made up of Jews, pagans, and followers of local African religions. The majority of the Ivorian Muslim population are Sunnis, and most of them follow the Maliki doctrine. Its followers account for 55 percent of the Muslim population, and this is due to their allegiance to the Sheikhs of North Africa, who embrace the same doctrine. Adherers of other doctrines such as Hanbali, Shafei, and a few Hanafi can also be found, and there is a presence of Salafi, Sufi, Shiite and Baha’i sects as well.

The task of spreading the Shiite doctrine in the Ivory Coast has been assigned to a controversial figure [within the Lebanese community], who was expelled from the country in the summer of 2009, amidst US accusations claiming he was financing Hezbollah. Economic sanctions were subsequently brought against him and his institutions, because he allegedly used to meet with influential officials from Hezbollah, and provide them with funds. In an interview with an Iraqi paper last August, this man stated that Shiite conversion project in the Ivory Coast was going according to plan, and that Shia Islam would be the sole doctrine in the country within the next 10 years.

These events are not isolated from the rest of Africa. Iran spends hundreds of millions of dollars propagating the concept of the Khomeinist revolution, and the Shiite doctrine, across Africa. The state claims it has achieved a significant and distinguished success in Nigeria, the largest Muslim country in Africa. According to Iran, the latest commemoration of the Day of Ashura in Nigeria was observed by 6 million people (the figure is probably exaggerated, but the number was indeed large).

This soft war continues, via the Ivory Coast. The struggle over power between the Iranian-backed President, who rigged the elections, and the Muslim candidate who legitimately won, and currently enjoys the support of the US and the rest of the world, is just one of a series of exciting chapters which are yet to come. Watch this space.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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