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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Myth of the Shi'ite Crescent

Who controls whom in the Middle East? Does it depend of language, ethnicity, or religious ideology? The answer is too complex to for a simple answer.

TEHRAN - A specter haunts the Middle East - at least in the minds of Sunni Arabs, especially Wahhabis, as well as a collection of conservative American think tanks: a Shi'ite crescent, spreading from Mount Lebanon to Khorasan, across Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and the Iranian plateau.

But facts on the ground are much more complex than this simplistic formula whereby, according to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait, Tehran controls its allies Baghdad, Damascus and parts of Beirut.

Seventy-five percent of the world's oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf. Seventy percent of the Gulf's population is Shi'ite. As an eschatological - and revolutionary - religion, fueled by a mix of romanticism and despair, Shi'ism cannot but provoke fear, especially in hegemonic Sunni Islam.

For more than a thousand years Shi'ite Islam has been in fact a galaxy of Shi'sms. It's as if it was a Fourth World, always maligned with political exclusion, a dramatic vision of history and social and economic marginalization.

But now Shi'ites finally have acquired political representation in Iraq, have conquered it in Lebanon and are actively claiming it in Bahrain. They are the majority in each of these countries. Shi'ism is the cement of their communal cohesion. It's a totally different story in Saudi Arabia, where Shi'ites are a minority of 11%, repressed as heretics and deprived of their rights and fundamental freedoms. But for how much longer?

Read the rest.

it's obvious that the Shi'ites are on the rise. Now that Iran is going nuclear, does this mean that Iran, will become the center of the Muslim world or even the "Shi'ite Crescent?" Who's to know?

Part 2 - Who's In Charge, Qom or Najaf?

TEHRAN - Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are crucial protagonists in the specter of a Shi'ite crescent, according to the Saudi royal family, King Abdullah of Jordan and conservative American think tanks. Once again, the facts on the ground are much more complex than a simplistic formula.

Syria, although 86% Muslim, is a multiethnic and multiconfessional country. The Sunni majority cohabits with 13% of Alawites (who are Shi'ites), 3% of Druze and 1% of Ismailis. The Alawites derive from a schism in the 9th century around the 11th imam, al-Askari, who they consider the last legitimate descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Sunnis as well as Western scholars consider them Shi'ites. But many Islamic scholars are not so sure.

Since the early 20th century, Syrian nationalists have never accepted the creation of Lebanon, Jordan and much less Palestine - which became Israel. Alawites - a persecuted minority for centuries - have reached their current enviable position in Syria thanks to the Ba'ath Party ideology, which has always been secular and nationalist.

It's all so very confusing.


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