Saturday, January 06, 2007

Marc Lynch:
It's very, very interesting that a big chunk of the Arab media and political discourse is currently venting its anger over the nature of the Saddam execution against Iran. What began as calculated sectarian anger with the Iraqi government, the Sadrists, or Iraqi Shia has quickly - and largely without explanation - morphed into anger with Iran. The big rally in Amman, which seemed to go off without any of the usual obstacles presented by state security forces, focused on denouncing Iran - including reported calls on Hamas and Hezbollah to sever ties with Iran and on the Jordanian government to do the same. Lots of articles in the Arab (especially Saudi) press have shifted the focus towards Iran.

This perfectly serves the interests of the Saudi/Egyptian/Jordanian axis of pro-American dictators moderates which has been pushing the "Shia threat" at every opportunity this past year. Their main interest in this has been to prepare the ground for a possible confrontation with Iran, and to check growing popular interest in Iran; their secondary (but very important) interest has been to undermine popular support for Hezbollah after last summer's war. Both comfortably align with American interests as understood by the Bush administration, of course, which is convenient. Much of the pushback against this growing sectarian "fitna" is coming from those casting it as an American agenda to be resisted - in essence recreating the partisan lines which divided the Arab world for the first week and a half (at least) of the Hezbollah-Israel war.

I think it's really important to reiterate that the "Sunni-Shia conflict" that gets so much press these days is not really coming from the ground up - it's much more of a top down thing. In places like Iraq itself, Lebanon, and Bahrain the growing Sunni-Shia tension is rooted in very real local power struggles, but in most of the rest of the Arab world it is a project of those regimes. What's very worrisome though is that more and more tinder is being laid, and what began as an artificially constructed "threat" could begin to take on a life of its own (as Salah al-Nasrawi warned in al-Hayat yesterday). Fahmy Howeydi's reflections the other day on how Iraq had forced him to become more aware of his own Sunni identity should be taken seriously - he was one of the very first prominent Arab intellectuals to warn against the Iraqi insurgency's targeting of Shia and other Iraqi civilians.
The origninal post includes 12 links; go to Abu Aardvark for the details. Also from someone in comments:
Now that you mention Iran, I thought I'd share the views of Mohammad Ali Abtahi on Saddam's execution with fellow devotees of Abu Aardvark. [link] Abtahi is a former vice-president of Iran, in Khatami's day, and is a cleric of the reformist tendency and fairly close to Khatami. He has had a weblog for a while, and a couple of days after Saddam's execution he posted the comments I append below, which I have translated very inelegantly. For the sake of giving a little more in the way of color and background, other recent posts have focused on his role in an organization for the "Dialogue of Faiths", his great admiration for the Palestinian ambassador in Iran, and an account of a meeting where a learned Iranian rabbi explained Hanoukkah customs to their Muslim co-citizens.
The commenter's translation follows. The english page for Ali Abtahi's blog, which the commenter missed (or maybe it's new), is here

See also Badger @ Arab Links, and commnets.

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