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Islam and Sectarianism ( 19 Jan 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Political Islam Divides Arabs

 By Talal Salman

Translation from Arabic by New Age Islam

15 Jan 2013

The Arab citizens have never been put to such hard religious test as is seen today. In this respect, all are facing the same situation, whether they belong to Muslim majority, or to religious minorities such as Christians who constitute a considerable number of the indigenous citizens of the region. The entire region is now fragmented by religious slogans as never before, apart from the fatal dangers that threaten the people of this region. These dangers are mainly of two sorts. Some of them are linked with the Israeli project, while others concern American hegemony. Having realised that sectarian conflict is more devastating than any means of destruction; America has withdrawn its troops. Moreover, drone attacks also help them pursue their “sacred mission”.

The situation remains all the same not only in Lebanon whose national unity and political entity are threatened, but also in Syria that is full of massacres and public bloodshed turning into another Somalia, as the Arab and international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned. The same goes on in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, where religious conflict and sectarian fight could lead to fragmentation, and where people are “categorized” according to their religious sects. Therefore, some believe that they deserve the power owing to control of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, while others are considered “infidels” or merely “under consideration”. The matter is not confined to classifying citizens according to their religion and sects, but rather it has reached the level of separating “believers” from those who are questioned in their interpretation of Islam.

Going by this Takfiri logic, all Egyptian Muslims cannot be considered Muslim, though they all belong to Sunni school of thought. Hardcore Ikhwanis (from the Muslim Brotherhood) and the radical Salafists accuse majority of Egyptian Muslims of being infidels. As for Copts, they are out of this discussion.

The same holds true for Tunisia after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are among those “others” whose faith and beliefs are denied by the Islamists in power, though they belong to the same sect. As for Libya, we find ourselves extremely confused in understanding the concepts and ways to perceive citizens. They all are Muslim, although they come from different tribes and ethnicities.

So far as the Levant is concerned, the issue gets more complicated due to division of Muslim citizens into Sunni majorities and Shiite, Alawite, Druze and Christian minorities in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Iraq, the situation is different as the relative majority of Arabs belong to Shiaism, while Kurdish nationalism trumps religion in the north, where the overwhelming majority belongs to Sunnis. There are also Christian minorities who face threats of displacement. Even most of the Christians who played a great part in building the Iraqi civilization right from the beginning, have been already displaced.

The American occupation of Iraq — a country destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s adventures, who assumed that he represented the dominant Sunnis in power — resulted into an apparently sectarian political crisis after power was handed over to the Shiite majority in order to win their trust and loyalty. The new leaders, who were handed over the power, have terribly failed to establish national unity on a strong base. As a result, political disputes have turned into sectarian conflict and the Sunnis are accusing the Shiites of emulating Saddam’s corrupt approach. Although President Jalal Talabani is Sunni, but Arab Sunnis do not consider him their representative in the government as he is a Kurdish. Rather they apprehend that the Shiites are monopolizing power, after most of the presidential powers were transferred to the head of the government.

The “popular uprising” in Anbar in western Iraq may not have yet resulted into sectarian conflict, but the ghastly events in Syria have overshadowed the Iraqi crisis, particularly since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf rulers claim that this uprising is aimed at “providing equity to Sunnis” so as to spare them from the injustice and exclusion from politics that their brethren in Syria have experienced. Their logic is that restoring power to the Sunnis in Iraq would compensate for the hegemony of Alawites in Syria.

In contrast, Bahrain's ruler continuously deprives the Shiite majority of the island nation from their rights as citizens, barely allowing them to vote. Moreover, when he knew that they would take control of parliament according to any fair electoral system, he created the Shura council, where he holds a majority. Thus, any decision requires the ruling family’s consent. Even when the crown prince succeeded in offering an acceptable draft settlement, the family objected and prevented the enthusiastic young man from following through with these efforts. There is no denying that the Shiite majority constantly faces accusations of being loyal to Iran, despite the fact that this majority has refused to take Iran’s side and has remained committed to Arabism. This was reflected in a referendum supervised by the United Nations 30 years ago, when the Shah of Iran was the emperor of the region and the Gulf acted together to avoid his harm.

Dealing with this popular uprising, the Bahraini authorities have faced many difficulties partly due to the fact that this island is located only a few miles away from the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, with a bridge linking the two countries. It’s the same bridge that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military forces — coming mostly from Saudi Arabia — used to cross over into Bahrain to counter the uprising, so that Bahraini authorities would not have to face the Shiites and their alleged Iranian counterpart alone.

The eastern region of Saudi Arabia lives in a permanent state of emergency, not because it contains all the country's oil wells and installations — including refineries and export seaports — but because its population is entirely Shiite, and considers itself oppressed. The Shiites are viewed by the Wahhabis as “infidels,” and the authorities deny them fair representation in state institutions, even though they make up about 15% of the total population of this gilded kingdom.

As for Yemen, political conflict prevails over dogmatic backgrounds. Some believe that the injustice against the south and the destruction of the state that was established in the 70s and then overthrown as a result of differences among the “Communist comrades,” and later returned by war to the north, is an injustice of a doctrinal nature. The Zaidi sect, a branch of Shiites, was behind the decision to do away with the Arab Republic of Yemen, which has a Shafi'i majority, though the current leadership in Sanaa is Shafi’i and comprises people from the south.

Before the outbreak of political Islam, any support or opposition was focused on political factors and the practices of ruling regimes. But when the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists came to power, particularly in Egypt, Tunisia and of course Libya, political rhetoric took on a sectarian and later confessional character. Thus, the Copts were the first to be removed from the Egyptian political equation .Then, Salafist voices began to exclude Muslims not affiliated with the Brotherhood or the Salafists from Islam itself. Takfiris are everywhere, and takfir is a political approach, not a style of worship or a strict application of assumed religious teachings against apostates. Furthermore, the Salafists and hardcore Sunnis excluded all Shiites from Arabism, then from Islam as a whole. They raised doubts about their religion due to their alignment with Iran, which embraces Zoroastrianism. They also made accusations against Hezbollah, which commands the resistance in Lebanon, ignoring the fact that the party had confronted Israel for over 20 years and its success in thwarting the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Owing to the takfiri campaigns, the Shiites in Iraq are being accused of two different loyalties: one to Iran and the other to the United States, with the view to marginalizing the Sunnis and excluding them from power as a prelude to ruling unilaterally, and not to hold Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accountable for the mistakes he has made since assuming power. This is totally a sectarian idea, perhaps with the intention of attracting Gulf support, some of whose officials have made statements that assert their engagement in this sectarian war at a time when some Gulf satellite TV channels are inciting sectarian conflict.

We must know that these divisive calls implicitly resonate among the Kurds, who are comfortable with seeing the central state in Baghdad preoccupied with the risks that threaten the unity of Iraq as a political entity, and thus are moving to further reinforce their autonomy in the Kurdistan region. They are working toward becoming a nearly independent state, while maintaining their share of the Iraqi oil and political decision-making in Baghdad.

It was amazing to see the press conference held by a leader of the banned Baath Party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, covered by satellite TV channels in the Gulf, after he repented and was guided by God to "true Islam," and joined the ranks of those seeking to liberate Iraq from Iranian hegemony. Even senior officials in the Gulf States have begun to talk about the revolution of "true Islam" in Iraq to restore power from its usurpers.

Had it not been for some reservations, these conversations would have evolved into calls for a full-scale war to liquidate the “strongholds of rejectionists” and return the "misguided" to "true Islam" through persuasion or with the sword.

The challenges and political mistakes that resort to sectarianism as a means to occupy power and rule unilaterally depend on the development of the situation in Egypt. If the Brotherhood continues its approach of monopolizing power, while giving a share of it to the Salafists, and adopting the logic of sectarianism by denying the Islam of Muslims who differ from their views on religion and worldly affairs, as well as non-Muslims, then a comprehensive nationalist disaster is bound to threaten all Arab countries with no exception.

May God save Muslims from the fire of sectarianism spreading from the east to the west!

URL for Arabic Article:الإسـلام-السـياسي-يـشق-المجتمــعـات-الـعـربيـة/d/10022

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