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Who’s More Dangerous: Sunni or Shia Islamists?

America could be said to be building a united front against Iran, but at what price?
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What we are seeing, however, is that Islamism is becoming entangled at present with the power it has gained, especially in Egypt. The country is innately in economic difficulties and these are being intensified by Muslim Brotherhood misrule. Rather than raise their countries to the peak of military-economic efficiency, the Islamist regimes are wrecking them.

But there are some very significant wild cards in the deck:

–If Sunni Islamist regimes in Egypt and Syria face significant problems with instability and economics, they might adopt the time-honored, traditional tactic of Arab dictatorships by stirring up foreign quarrels and promoting anti-Americanism. This could unleash future Arab-Israeli wars.

–Sunni Islamist regimes in Egypt, the Gaza Strip and probably Syria would give extremely radical Salafist forces a free hand in attacking Christians, moderates, women’s rights, foreign embassies, and possibly Israel. Human rights in these countries—if anybody in the West cares about that—are going to suffer severe hits.

–Hamas will probably attack Israel in future, perhaps with at least some Egyptian backing though the Egyptian regime is now trying to restrain Hamas in order to consolidate rule at home and get Western money.

–Al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Syria and for the first time its possible takeover cannot be ruled out, at least in alliance with other Salafist groups.

–The stronger the Sunni Islamists, the more uncooperative the Palestinian Authority will be with attempts at a “peace process.” It is possible that the P.A. would face a considerable challenge from Hamas on the West Bank while forces within Fatah, the P.A.’s ruling party, might form alliances with Hamas. Israel should be able to keep the P.A. in power—a situation wrought with irony—but its stability could crumble.

In short, while one can make the case for Shia Islamism being the more dangerous—at least as long as Iran might get nuclear weapons—one must very carefully examine the implications of that judgment in every specific case. Promoting Sunni Islam is no panacea but rather substitutes longer-term for shorter-term threats.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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