Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Qatar form part of the Islamic Mosaic of Shiite and Sunni communities laying the groundwork for the enlargement of the Syrian Shia-Sunni conflict, if ignited. The world “Arab” does not distinguish between Shiite and Sunni but the vast ideological conflict between the two communities going back to the beginnings of Islam is now at the cusp of manifesting in a larger regional conflict, engulfing all of the countries mentioned above. Bahrain and Lebanon have already seen conflict on sectarian lines, as has Iraq. However, Syria is sparking a deeper level of frustration amongst the regions’ populations that harks back to the fight for leadership of the Islamic community between the Governance system (Khalifa) established through the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) and the claim to hereditary leadership by Hazrat Ali (PBUH; the Prophet’s son-in-law). Then, Shiites, the followers of Ali (PBUH) based in Baghdad (Iraq) entered a long period of resistance and attrition against the elected Islamic leadership of the Khalifa, based in Mecca and Medina (Saudi Arabia). Centuries of violence and insurrection passed giving rise to a multitude of offshoot militia groups in the Near East region, most liked to spiritual orders such as the Sufis.
After centuries of submersion, the conflict has resurfaced in Syria and Bahrain. The issue is political leadership and ascendancy of the whole community of Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites, echoing back to the original power struggle that sparked centuries of attrition and a permanent fracture of the Islamic world. The seriousness of this situation can be illustrated by studying the percentages of Shiites that compose the populations of Saudia Arabia, UAE and others, and their provinces of origins in these countries. It has been reported that Sunnis in Iraq are mobilizing arms and financing to support their Sunni brethren in Syria, as Iran has been doing with the Shiite and Alawite minorities in Syria. This type of crony-clientism can spread very fast from Iran to Shiite populations in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and UAE. Granted that Iran has its hands full dealing with the effects of the US-led sanctions and decreasing oil income, but it takes very little to build a fire from a spark that already exists and reflects deep burns from the past.
Shiite populations in Bahrain have been in the line of fire for demanding the same things as their other Arab brothers – increased democracy, representation and an equalized income distribution system – yet their insurrection has fallen off the global news chart and no one has made any noise about the relatively large loss of life of Shiites in Bahrain. Why? because Bahrain is a US ally? This kind of discrimination of response by the international community will eventually lead to an enlargement of the conflict.
Sunnis have a ready organizer in the shape of Al-Quaeda, a sunni based terrorist organization that is looking for their next war. Syria is perfect. Shiites have the Hezbollah in Lebanon that could easily turn their attention and their fighters loose on Syria, in case they feel that the Sunnis are winning that war. This is picture of regional enlargement that I want to convey and I am alarmed about. The conflict will not necessarily be contained in Syria but can easily move to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that themselves have a patchwork of Islamic denominations as a part of their natural population.
In the end, the struggle between Shiites and Sunnis is for ascendancy and leadership of the Islamic realm. It is not inconceivable that the present conflict in Syria can ignite this quasi-global Islamic conflict in the lands that gave birth to Islam in the inception – in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon that in 7th century AD, were one contiguous stretch of land and people.
Note: I apologize in advance if any of the historical facts I have written above are deemed inaccurate by some of you and I have tried to be respectful to all Islamic historical leaders I have named. I do respect everyone and this is written from a political analysis point of view.
Tags: Assad Government, gulf arabs, Iran, Lebanon, militia groups, Saudi Arabia, Shiite minorities, spiritual orders, Struggle for democracy, Sunni, sunnis and shiites, sunnis in iraq, Syria, Syrian insurgency