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Chatting with my Chinese friend (15): Confessional politics

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

01-06-2016 18:47 BJT

By Hichem Karoui

— The beheading of a Saudi Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, on January 2, sparked violence, and raised the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia to a high level. A mob stormed the Saudi Embassy in Teheran and set fire to parts of the building, while condemnations of the execution emanated from the Shia community, as well as Human rights activists, and the United Nations. Why two big Muslim nations confront each other instead of building a future together? Beyond the execution and the reactions it has engendered, how do you assess the present situation, asked Yu?


— Your question, said I, is actually related to the history of the region. In my view, the whole issue, exists only because people in the Middle East make an amalgam of religion and politics, where the language is not about economic interests, but religious views of politics and political use of religion.

As it happens, the triumph of the Iranian revolution in 1979 was in many aspects a victory over secular politics. With the elevation to power of the "Faqih" (religious guide), politics in this major Middle East nation, ended up as a religious affair. The spiritual guide became the decision-maker. It was also the beginning of an era of mutual distrust and hostility between Iran and its neighbors, including Arabs, Turks, and Israelis and between Iran and the West as well. However, Iran's weight, as a big oil producer and also as the largest home of Shia Muslims in the world, made it hard for neighbors to ignore its revolution and the new way it was preaching for mixing together politics and religion. The country that seemed most threatened by the new wave of "political religion" or "religious politics" was well next door, Iraq. For in this country then ruled by a secular dictator (i.e. Saddam Hussein), the majority of the population confessed the same faith as Iran: Shiism. Better: apart from the left (which was attracting mainly the Kurds, and some elites of the cities), the spectrum of the Iraqi opposition comprised almost the same trends that have unsettled Muhammad Rida Shah of Iran, — for instance, Daawa Party, and Supreme Islamic Council, both duodecimal Shiite, calling for the overthrow of the secular Baathist regime. Both mix together politics and confession, and intend to build the "community of the faithful" (i.e. Shiite faithful) in the very first place of the national community. It was already a confessional political project while still in the opposition. That's why a war broke out between Iraq and Iran and continued over eight years.

As we recall that Sunni Islamic Brotherhood started confessional politics in Egypt in 1927, obviously, confessional politics is nothing new in the region and is likely not going to stop at the Iranian borders. Gulf states also felt no less threatened by Iran and anybody who consults the media archives of the eighties, would understand that the Gulf was already fighting on a double front:

1- Supporting Saddam's war against Iran, which was threatening to take Bahrain, as it did with three Emirati islands, and push the Saudi Shiite to rebel against Ryadh, as it did in Lebanon, where a pro-Iranian militia (Hizbullah) was preparing to take over the whole country under the pretext of  resisting Israel.

2- Preparing a Sunni army of voluntary fanatics to take the defense of the Gulf regimes, in case Iran's threats become imminent with a defeat of Saddam. The Gulf cannot rely on the USA, which has just proved its inefficiency in Iran. Washington was the best ally of Muhammad Rida Shah. But it was completely taken aback by the revolution that overthrew him, and seemed powerless. Whether they wanted it or not, the Gulf sheikhs were forced to respond to the demands of both their US allies, and Wahhabi clerics. Both have reached an unbelievable tacit agreement. In Afghanistan, the Russian army has once again repeated the Prague scenario: it invaded the country to help settle down its man in power. The move was considered by the Americans unacceptable. As they did not wish a direct confrontation with Russia that could become too much dangerous, they had to find the proxy willing to fight for Uncle Sam. However, the job of intelligence is sometimes to make people believe they were having their own way and fighting for their own goals. The Wahhabi sheikhs in all the mosques of Saudi Arabia became preachers of the Jihad against the Russian "kuffar" (apostates) who had invaded a Muslim country. The "daawa" (call for jihad) was relayed throughout the Arab and Muslim countries by "good willing" Muslim leaders and Mosque Imams who may have really believed - if they were not touched by the grace of the petrodollar - that their duty is to call for jihad against the communist enemy. In Washington, one can imagine it was euphoria! Thousands of young Muslims left their countries to answer the jihad call, just as others will do in different circumstances since 2013, to join Syria. These are mainly Sunni Muslims, the bulk of which came from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, although others joined them from Egypt, North Africa, Sudan, the Horn and the Sahel of Africa. Together they formed the army that will fight Russia, expel it from Afghanistan and pave the way to the Taliban regime and constitute the core of al-Qaeda. Later on, some would return to their respective countries in Africa, well trained to all kinds of terrorism and guerrilla, and start fighting against their own rulers… still on the same pattern: religious politics and political religion.

Much of what happened follows these two ways: Iran (Shiite leader) or Saudi Arabia (Sunnite leader). And both leaders are definitely unable to control the results of their choices. They are since still fighting against each other and unable to present a constructive alternative of cooperation.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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