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The Sectarian Genie: The Sunni-Shi’ite Struggle Released by the Arab Spring

President George W. Bush with Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Bush Ranch in Crawford, April 25, 2002. Saudi Arabia is considered on of the leaders of the Sunni faction of Islam in the struggle against the Shi'a, now led by Iran.

President George W. Bush with Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Bush Ranch in Crawford, April 25, 2002. Saudi Arabia is considered on of the leaders of the Sunni faction of Islam in the struggle against the Shi'a, now led by Iran.
Photo Credit: White House

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In Lebanon, Hizb’Allah calls itself the “group of Allah” to send the message that the Shi’ites are the faction that belongs to Allah, while the Sunnis, Christians, Druze, Zionists and all others are hazav al-Saytin , the “group of Satan”. Hizb’Allah’s struggle is primarily a sectarian struggle before it is nationalistic or political.

The civil war in Syria is another example of the Shi’ite struggle against the Sunna: the Alawites who rule Syria represent themselves as a Shi’ite sect, because they see Ali bin Abi Talib, the founder of Shi’a, as the incarnation of G-d in a human body. That is why a Shi’ite coalition that includes Iran and Hizb’Allah stands with the Alawites, and opposing them is a Sunni coalition – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The stakes of the war is the whole “kitty”: sovereignty, physical survival and the question of who is the true Islamic faction, which will be spared from Hell: the Shi’ites or the Sunnis. And meanwhile both of them are making hell for each other.

Salafis – Sunnis

Many today are concerned about the revival of Islam in the wake of the “Arab Spring”, which began with high hopes that democracy would sweep the Middle East but instead, the Islamist parties rose to power in Egypt and Tunisia, and the Islamist parties gained strength in Morocco and in Kuwait. The many jihadi militias that are active in the Syrian theater against the socialistic and secular Ba’ath regime increase the concerns about militant Islam, the concern mainly centering around the fear that the militias will succeed in getting their hands on the many weapons of mass destruction that exist in Syria.

The Salafis emerged from this whole mishmash onto the political stage. These organizations aspire to return Islamic societies to the life-style of al-Salaf al-salah – the righteous forefathers – who lived in the seventh century CE, which is how their name is derived. Some of them do this by using dawa, social activism, but some of them are pushing the end and use militant jihad to achieve their goals. In Egypt, the Salafi movements, which entered into politics last year, won a quarter of the seats of parliament, and in Syria many anti-regime militias bear Salafi jihadi symbols.

Violent Salafi groups regularly desecrate monuments of groups that they perceive as heretical: the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the Buddha statues in March of 2001; about two months ago groups of Salafis destroyed gravestones and buildings belonging to Sufis (a mystical Islamic sect) in Timbuktu, Mali, and a week ago, on Saturday August 25, a group of Salafis destroyed a mosque and dome belonging to Sufis in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, in broad daylight and no one dared trying to prevent them from doing it: the weapons carried by the destroyers convinced others to remain at a safe distance.

In post “Arab Spring” Tunisia, several Salafi groups are active, and recently a clip has been circulating showing one of these groups performing a ritual in which its members slaughtered a young man who had the temerity to convert to Christianity. Some of the violent groups who have been active in Iraq since 2003, and presently in the Gaza Strip, in the Sinai Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, Yemen, Algeria and Morocco, in Chechnya, Iranian Baluchistan , Kurdistan (of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran), Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and many other states present themselves as jihadi Salafis, and over all of these groups hovers the immortal apparition of Usama bin Laden and the successful Al-Qaeda model.

It is important to note that the Salafis are Sunnis, and the struggle that they are conducting is against Sunnis, Shi’ites, Christians, Jews and heretics to the same degree, because as they see it anyone who is not a Salafi jihadi is destined for hell, in this world as well as the next, and the Salafi jihadis appoint themselves to dictate the height of the flames upon which all those who do not join in their path will be roasted.

The Common Enemy

For both sides of the factional struggle, the Sunnis as well as the Shi’ites, there is a common enemy which is the West in general, which represents an ideological and cultural enemy, while the United States and Israel fulfill the role of a concrete, military and political enemy. However the fact that there is a common enemy does not usually lead the two sides of the factional struggle to join forces. Moreover, sometimes one side – usually the Sunni – enlists the support of the West in order to cope more successfully with the Shi’a side. This is how the long standing alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia is explained, which are so very far from each other culturally.

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About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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One Response to “The Sectarian Genie: The Sunni-Shi’ite Struggle Released by the Arab Spring”

  1. The Hadith you starting with is not quite how it is….the meaning of it is, that there will be many groups/sects, and only one of them will enter paradise straight without sighting or experiencing a small time in hell because of the deviations in their faith and actions. If you are a Muslim you will in the end end up in paradise.

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