Shia Fears of Sectarian Strife's spillover

Posted in Syria , Egypt | 01-Jul-13 | Author: Haytham Mouzahem

On June 23, 2013, Four Egyptian Shiite men have been killed by a hostile mob in a village in Giza province near Cairo, because they consider the Shiites as "infidels". Hundreds of residents of Abu Mussalem's village  attacked a house of a Shiite resident after learning that a leading Shiite cleric, Hassan Shehata, was inside. They stormed in and they dragged the Shiites out one by one and beat them to death.

"We're happy about what happened. It should have happened long ago,"  one of the village residents, who works as teacher  told AFP. One can imagine what this teacher may teach his students!

This crime is a new evidence for the spillover of the deepening sectarian war in Syria to the whole region. It came after weeks of anti-Shiite rhetoric in the Egyptian and Arab media and from Sunni Islamist groups. At a conference for Syria attended by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on June 15, a leader of a Salafist movement slammed the Shiites' "filth" while Morsi called Iran as a "Rafidas state". "Rafidas", a Sunni historic term against Shiite means that are stray from Islam. Another Salafi conference for Syria had convened on June 13 under the patronage of Sheikh Youssef al-Qardawi who calls the Shiites as "Rafidas.

The Egyptian Shiite leading figure, Al-Taher Al-Hashimi, said that Morsi and the Salafist clerics including Qardawi, are responsible for this catastrophe, because there has been a direct sectarian incitement against Shiites of Egypt, and the Salafist clerics called the Shiite as "Rafidas and sinful".

The sectarian rhetoric has been increased in the region since the start of the Syrian "Sunni uprising" in March 2011 against the Allawitte President Bashar Al-Assad.

The American scholar, Vali Nasr, told Al-Monitor in an email interview on May 12, that we are witnessing today a resurgence of Sunni identity in the form of Islamist assertion of authority and claim to power, and a sharpening of sectarian identities as a consequence of the Arab Spring. He added  that "the more relevant for sectarianism is the rise in power of Salafism across North Africa and the Middle East." He added that "Salafism in particular represents a view of Islam that excludes Shiism--not just in politics but also in its conception of Islamic community."

Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states have launched a sectarian media campaign against Iran, Hezbollah, and  the Iraqi government because of the alleged "sectarian" support for the Syrian regime.

Nasr explained that "Shia and Sunni reactions to developments in Bahrain and Syria have been different and the specter of Sunni resurgence has only heightened Shia identity", indicating that this trend is supported by greater rivalry between Iran and Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah has been condemned recently by most Sunni Lebanese and Arab clerics and governments, due to its involvement in the Syrian war, mainly in the battle of Qusair's.

Hezbollah has attempted to justify his involvement in Syria, first by the pretext of protecting Shiite Lebanese villages inside the Syrian territories from the "Syrian Free Army" and "Takfiri" groups. Later, the party has raised the slogan of defending the Shiite shrines that are located in Damascus Countryside.

These pretexts have not convinced the most of the Sunnis of Lebanon and the Arab world. Professor Radwan Al-Sayed, a scholar specialist in Islamic affairs and also a member of Future's party politburo, told Al- Monitor in June 7, that these Shiite shrines have been in Syria for about 1400 years and the Sunnis protected them and preserved them until the 1950s when a Lebanese Shiite man decided to build a mosque near Zeinab's shrine.

Later on, some "takfiri" extremist fighters destroyed the shrine of the Prophet's companion Hujr Ibn Uday, and exhumated his grave.

On the 25th of May 2013, Secretary General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah has declared publicly that his group is fighting in Al-Qusair against the "Takfiri" groups of "Nusra Front" which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda. Nasrallah stated that this is a preventive defensive war against these groups, indicating that his party won't allow that Syria falls in the hands of Israel and the U.S. or the Takfiri groups.  This frank statement has been an evidence for the Anti- Hezbollah groups in Lebanon and the region to condemn the party for its meddling in Syria, notably after its success to control the strategic city of Qusair.

Radwan Al-sayed commented on Nasrallah's speech saying that he is accusing the Sunnis of Syria of being "Takfiri", so he is considering them as "infidels".

It was remarkable the call for "Jihad", (on May 31), by the influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, as he demonized Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah and branded Hezbollah, which means "the party of God" in Arabic, as the "party of Satan" for "fighting the Sunnis" in Syria.

Qaradawi has not limited his accusations to Hezbollah or Iran, as political players, but he accused all Shiites that they are "preparing and spending money for the implementation of the massacres in Syria to kill the Sunni people," and urged Arab governments to stand by the Syrians.  He added: "How could 100 million Shiites (worldwide) defeat 1.7 billion (Sunnis)? ..only because (Sunni) Muslims are weak".

Furthermore, the Gulf Cooperation Council condemned on June 9 Hezbollah's involvement in Syria and threatened to take measures against "Hezbollah loyalists' residencies as well as their financial and trade transactions." Thus, this decision has sparked fears among Lebanese Shiite expatriates that they could be expelled from the Arab Gulf countries.

However, the Shiites' concerns are not limited to deportation or confiscation of their money. They became security and safety concerns as some Salafi clerics and groups in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have called for slaughter of Shiites in Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. "Fatawas" against Shiites and calls to kill them have been declared publicly by  some known Salafi - Wahhabi and Sunni clerics.

Even the Shiites citizens of the Gulf states have expressed their fears and concerns of these unprecedented campaigns at least since the beginning  of the twentieth century. We have rarely seen an official condemnation to these "fatawas" and calls for murder from Gulf and Arab governments, nor from Arab politicians or intellectuals.

Following the massacre of  Hatlah (on June 11), a Syrian village near Deir el-Zour in east of Syria, that 60 Shiite people, including women and children,  have been killed. In a video posted on YouTube, showed some of the Shiite victims while a foreign fighter from "Al-Nusra front" was threatening the Shia of Kuwait following the massacre and urging the Sunni Kuwaitis to kill their Shiite citizens, because they support the Syrian regime.

Moreover, the Kuwaiti Sunni cleric, Shafi al-Ajami, has congratulated the fighters for slaughtering a Shiite cleric and his family, and other Shiite residents of Hatlah, as a revenge for the victims of Qusair. He threatened of more killings and attacks against the Shi'ite villages of Nubul and Zahraa in Halab province.  Ajami added that he is launching a fund raising to send 12000 foreign fighters to Syria in order to confront Hezbollah. He asked these fighters to capture Hezbollah's fighters alive, because he wants to slaughter them by his hands.

A source close to Hezbollah told Al-monitor that the sectarian campaign against the Shiite party is an old strategy that has been used against it since 2006, when was no "Syrian war".

It is worthy to note that Saudi Wahhabi clerics have issued fatawas in Summer 2006 forbidding to grant any assistance to Hezbollah and the Shia in their resistance struggle against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon(July – August 2006).

The Lebanese source acknowledged that this time the confrontation between the "Resistance Axis" and the "Gulf Arab – Western axis" appears much clearer as a Sunni – Shiite conflict. He claimed that Hezbollah's battle in al-Qusair is a defensive war against Al-Qaeda and "takfiri" groups that declared their aim to target the Shiite party from day one of the Syrian crisis.

To conclude, the sectarian gap is getting larger and deeper day after day. The involvement of regional states(Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon) in the Syrian war reminds us of the  Ottoman–Safavid Wars (1514–1639) that lasted about 125 years over the control of Iraq and Central Asia. They were political imperial wars but covered by sectarian religious slogans. Could the history repeat itself?