The fear of a Shia axis

#1
From The Gulf Research Unit's Blog The fear of a Shia axis By: Bjørn Olav Utvik
An idea is afloat in the Arab world and beyond that a Shia axis is growing in strength and influence. It reached one high point in the aftermath of Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, when Hasan Nasrallah and Mahmud Ahmadinezhad scored highest on the list of important leaders in the Arab world in a survey carried out by Zogby’s. Nasrallah and his Iranian backers were carried high on a wave of popular anger against Israel and its Western supporters. More than anything the Lebanese Hezbollah stood forth as a movement that time and again had shown that, uniquely among Arabs thus far, it could hold its own in a military confrontation with Israel.

The reaction from the Arab capitals was the forging of an image of a sinister Shia challenge, and the pouring out of literature depicting the Shia as an age-old enemy of the majority Sunni Muslims.

In addition to Iran and Hezbollah the emerging axis supposedly consisted of the Shia parties dominating the new political set-up in Iraq, many of whom had spent long years of exile in Teheran, and of Syria and Hamas.

There are severe problems with this.

To the extent that the parties mentioned constitute an axis in the sense of exhibiting a degree of solidarity among them on the regional scene, something which is highly contestable in the case of the Iraqi Shia groups, religion is hardly the base of this alliance. While strong religious and ideological bonds exist between the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran, whose Revolutionary Guard helped set up the organisation in the first place in the early 1980s, no ideological love is lost between the Iranians and the staunchly secular Syrian regime. The fact that many Syiran leaders have a family background from the minority Alawi population, who adhere to a theologically obscure Shia sect, does hardly make them religious bedfellows with the leaders in Teheran. Their ideology is secular Arab nationalism, and the religious beliefs of their sect are very far removed from those entertained in the clerical seminaries of Qom in Iran. As for the Palestinian Hamas it is distinctly a Sunni movement. All this means that the so-called Shia axis is really a set of alliances dictated by more or less overlapping political objectives that have preciously little to do with religion. Most supposed partners in the axis have a common enemy in Israel and seek allies against it where they can be found. But one should be careful with the role of Iran here. Despite the flamboyant anti-Israeli rhetoric of Ahmadinezhad Iran is obviously the least directly affected by Israeli power politics. Iran’s prime concern is to seek allies against the dominance in the area of the United States and its Arab allies. No better cause to champion then than the struggle against Israel, a role abdicated by the Arab regimes but deeply resonant with the feelings of the Arab masses (while on the home front the Iranian people remains more aloof).

What, then, is behind the scaremongering from some Arab capitals?

At one level it reflects a fear of the growth of internal opposition, more often than not led by Islamists. Movements like Hezbollah and Hamas are seen as exerting a dangerous influence in that they galvanise oppositional elements into believing that change is possible. Through their defiant stance against Israel they also throw into stark relief the inability and unwillingness of most Arab governments to act in defence of the Palestinian cause. By portraying these movements as mere tools in the hands of an expansionist non-Arab and non-Sunni Iran the governments hope to undermine the popular legitimacy of the Islamists.

At another level what is at stake is an historical unwillingness to come to terms with the existence of Iran as a major regional power. In any future stable Middle East Iran with a population equal to Iraq and the six Gulf monarchies combined will carry a lot of weight by the mere size of its economy. It also has strong religious, cultural and historical ties with the other side of the Gulf and with Iraq in particular. The majority of Iraq’s population belongs to the same brand of Islam as do ninety percent of the Iranians. The fall of Saddam Husayn has reopened contact across the border, and many leading politicians in current Iraq spent years of exile in Teheran.

Obviously the current power holders in Iran are not very nice people in terms of their internal policies. No doubt they are active at many levels, not all of them legitimate, to increase their influence over the political process in Iraq. But to interpret all evidence of Iranian influence in the region as signs of a threatening expansionist scheme on the part of Teheran, points to a potentially dangerous lack of preparedness for a future Middle East where no superpower hegemony will shield the local powers from having to deal with each other’s actual local strength.
The final point is well made but this post underplays what is in affect a major change to the regional power balance.

Since 06 the Arab street has become genuinely wary of Qom's rising influence. A recent Zogby poll had Iran outshining Israel as a threat to Egypt. This isn't just state drummed up paranoia, they are right to worry.

Iraq for over a millennium a Sunni bastion, the shield of the Arabs, is now dominated by a Shia and Kurdish rulers. Both these groups have intimate ties to Qom. Despite a good deal of Iraqi nationalist hostility to "The Persians" demonstrated in the recent elections the final guarantors of this tectonic shift is an Iran determined to preserve the Great Satan's strategic gifting. DC's damaged regional prestige and waning regional primacy only make this a harsher reality in the Sunni Arab world.

The Iraqi Shia and particularly the al-Sadr dynasty have an historic relationship with the increasingly dominant Shia of Lebanon.

The web spreads out to the Shia of Bahrain and Yemen. Iran's backing of Hamas, a violent but dangerously democratic ideological off shout of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is a deeply discomfiting move. You can fully expect this sly bit of flanking to be repeated elsewhere.

Qom's always been pragmatic in it's allegiances as Baathist Syria proves. They also increasingly intimate with Kabul formerly a Gulf Kingship/Pindi sponsored haven for righteous Deobandi Puritanism of the Taliban.

Much of the Umma believes that Allah shapes world events in favor of the righteously faithful. Mighty Egypt and the wealthy Sunni Arab states impotent, pushed into a humiliating alliance with the bullying Crusader/Zionist nexus appear unloved by God.

Iranian advances in the face of the once overwhelming might of DC are taken as evidence of divine grace rather than the opportunistic exploitation of more than one enemies strategic bungling.

That's why they talk of a "Shia Crescent" more than the return of the Safavids by more stealthy means. If you think that's paranoid do remember these are peoples historical familiar with being incorporated into Empires from the hearty commercial embrace of Pax Americana, the swindling Brits and French, the Ottoman Caliphate before them all the way back to Alexander and Cyrus both known as Great.
 
#2
Swindling Brits? A somewhat one sided description, I feel. More accurately, Brits who would not easily accept the first deal offered.
 
#3
explains why egyptians et al are helping Yemen with its northern/shia insurgency, even if they are shia with a small s
 
#4
eodmatt said:
Swindling Brits? A somewhat one sided description, I feel. More accurately, Brits who would not easily accept the first deal offered.
Brits and French as in Sykes-Picot, partition of Syria, Egyptian "Protectorate" etc, etc. The long lasting British reputation for deviousness in the region is a monument to the effectiveness of our forebears.
 

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#5
alib said:
eodmatt said:
Swindling Brits? A somewhat one sided description, I feel. More accurately, Brits who would not easily accept the first deal offered.
Brits and French as in Sykes-Picot, partition of Syria, Egyptian "Protectorate" etc, etc. The long lasting British reputation for deviousness in the region is a monument to the effectiveness of our forebears.
Yes, the Persians are still convinced that we pull the Yanks' strings, it's nice that our reputation lives on - punching above our weight, as it were...

Probably stems from the time we gave them a good kicking in the 1850s. There's a statue of the Victor of that war, Sir James Outram, just outside MOD Main Building, and another of the other big players, Sir Henry Havelock, has one nearby. Good reminders!
 
#6
OldSnowy said:
alib said:
eodmatt said:
Swindling Brits? A somewhat one sided description, I feel. More accurately, Brits who would not easily accept the first deal offered.
Brits and French as in Sykes-Picot, partition of Syria, Egyptian "Protectorate" etc, etc. The long lasting British reputation for deviousness in the region is a monument to the effectiveness of our forebears.
Yes, the Persians are still convinced that we pull the Yanks' strings, it's nice that our reputation lives on - punching above our weight, as it were...

Probably stems from the time we gave them a good kicking in the 1850s. There's a statue of the Victor of that war, Sir James Outram, just outside MOD Main Building, and another of the other big players, Sir Henry Havelock, has one nearby. Good reminders!
Perfidious Albion and all that. But after all, it was for their own good! :)
 

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