Today, under Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has a Sunni Islamic government rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. One might question, as does Harold Rhode (specialist in Islam formerly working for Pentagon) whether the Iranian support for Hamas has managed to create a crack within the Sunni camp. For what happened during the latest outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas was that Egypt and Morsi failed to unconditionally support Hamas in the conflict, as one might have expected, but rather remained neutral, or even provided tacit support for Israel.
The causes for this may be several, with Harold Rhode is pointing out some of them: The Egyptian economy is heading for a collapse; Morsi needs American money, and does not want to be dragged into a conflict with Israel. Also the Egyptian army, weakened as it is, probably has no desire for a war against a powerful Israel. Additionally, Morsi needs time to consolidate his power internally, an agenda that Hamas cannot be permitted to put at risk. But the image is not unambiguous; events develop quickly, which the recent dramatic events in Egypt have demonstrated, where Hamas rallied behind the Morsi regime. But when it comes to the Israel question, one must assume that Hamas in the current situation will have to rely more on Shiite Iran than on their Sunni brothers in Egypt.
At first glance, it might look as if the Iranian ambition to spread Shiite teachings in the Sunni camp is on the road to success. However, there are many more signs that things are moving the opposite way; at the moment, Iran appears to be losing ground on practically every front.
In Syria, the Sunni-led insurgency movement has been working systematically and brutally towards toppling the ruling Alawite clan. With 75 percent of the population, the Sunnis constitute a clear majority in the country. The Alawites, who have been ruling the country since the time of French colonialism, are a Shiite branch, but constitute only 12 percent of the population. Sunni discontent has, over the past century, resulted in a number of violent rebellions, which led to the usual counter-violence from the government. ”The current sectarian violence between Sunnis and Alawites is nothing new”, as the journalist and expert on religion Stephen Crittenden notes. Tens of thousands have been killed over the years, not least during the rebellions of 1981 and 1982, when Assad’s army brutally crushed the protests.
The close ties between Iran and the Syrian leadership, which has been a link to Hezbollah, now seems in the process of breaking, which may cause massive problems upholding the status of the Shiite militia in southern Lebanon. Not to mention what probably awaits the Alawite minority in case the rebel forces succeed in what seems to be their objective – toppling Assad from power and creating an Islamic state.
Iran also lost in Sudan, where important Iranian-funded weapon factories have been destroyed. Weapons from these factories had provided a great part of Hamas’ firepower
In Bahrain, one of the rich oil kingdoms, the Shiite rebellion inspired by the “Arab Spring” was brutally crushed by the ruling Sunni regime. That led the official Iranian newspaper Kayhan to talk of the need for a military annexation of Bahrain. But at the moment, the waves of rebellion have petered out in the Arabic peninsula. Not a single Shiite-inspired ripple is permitted.
The question of Iran and the nuclear bomb is outside the scope of this article, but some Middle Eastern experts believe that the decreasing Iranian influence in the region might well contribute to a decision to lead this project to its conclusion.
Almost 80 percent of the Pakistani population count themselves as Sunni Muslims, making the Shiites a clear minority. After the state was created in 1947, the tensions were few and could be controlled; many leading politicians, for example Ali Bhutto (father of Benazir Bhutto) were Shiites. But after Ali Bhutto was toppled, then executed in 1979 by the dictator Zia ul-Haq (a Sunni), the tensions between Shiites and Sunnis immediately increased. Also the proximity to the newly proclaimed (Shiite) Islamic Republic of Iran was to play a role.
Since then, Pakistan has suffered heavily from sectarian violence, even in the highest circles of the elite. There are many indications that it was a Sunni Islamic suicide attack that killed Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Further down, on ground level, we find Saudi-supported Sunni terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which aim to either kill or deport all Shia Muslims from the country. Tens of thousands have been killed in attacks and suicide bombings. The Iranian-supported Shia militia Sipah-e-Muhammed Pakistan does it share to maximize the casualty count, but admittedly leads a risky life in its largely Sunni-dominated surroundings.
The Taliban are a Sunni group, and as such receive massive support, not least in the form of weapons, from other extremist Wahhabi groups around the region. For instance the Pakistani groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba have sent thousands of volunteers to fight alongside the Taliban.
The Taliban, which today are not quite united in their tactics, are fighting to overthrow the democratic project and reintroduce the strict Islamic law known from their time in power from 1996 to 2001. Their fight also targets Shia Muslims to a great extent, first and foremost represented by the ethnic minority group the Hazaris. ”Hazaris are not Muslims”, as Taliban leader Mullah Niazi declared in a mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, after some 8,000 persons, mostly Hazaris, had been killed in a Taliban attack.
This essay by Kenneth Karlsson will continue in the next issue of Dispatch International.
By: Kenneth Karlsson