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GCC will fight for unity of the Arab world

New boundaries should not be drawn along sectarian lines.



By Mustafa Al Zarooni, City Editor

Published: Mon 15 Jun 2015, 10:20 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:15 PM

The issue of sectarianism in the Islamic and Arab world dates back 1,400 years when different groups fought for political power and influence. Doctrinal disputes that arose did not make it to the political and sectarian mainstream as people went about their business while living in relative harmony with each other.

Sects agreed to differ, split up at times, and groups thus formed continued to live in peace without calling for more divisions. We are not trying to revisit history here, but there is need for perspective before we confront the larger problem of extremist sectarianism that is engulfing the Muslim world.

Countries distanced themselves from religious differences while drawing political boundaries and developing their own systems of governance. As they got busy with their internal affairs, Arab nationalism came to light, which was followed by wars for control of more terrain.

Despite conflicts, various sects of Islam managed to co-exist peacefully in countries of their choice. There was no difference between a mosque where would people gather to offer prayers and a funeral ceremony when people came to offer sympathy over a death in the family. Religion was personal, piety mattered and it served the community at large while not riding roughshod on the rights of other groups.

The Arab world has lived in peace and harmony with its neighbours for many centuries. The common bonds of Islam helped us prosper as a region, but that changed in 1979 with the Iranian revolution when sectarianism became an instrument of state policy and its spread was encouraged by the regime in Tehran.

Many supported the Iranian revolution 1979 on religious (not political) grounds and thus began the communal dance that has destabilised the region to this day. Iran’s sectarian- expansionist vision after the revolution was spearheaded by politicians, who used religion as a cover to spread hate and begin more revolutions. They began training leaders and militants — building shadow governments in some countries with a Shia majority and fanned the seeds of discord between brotherly communities.

This experiment bore fruit with the emergence of Hezbollah in Lebanon — which has a sizeable Shia population. Hezbollah were violent, lived by their warped doctrine and gained supporters who filled their coffers and offered them moral and political support. Sectarian sentiments were stirred, but the majority refused to be drawn into a full-blowed conflict.

Meanwhile, Iran’s larger sectarian plan gave Sunni clerics fodder as they galvanised their community to wage cable wars from Europe against Shia politicians. These hardline Sunni clerics used the media to spout venom which borders on intolerenace towards communities other than theirs. It was easy and cheap to obtain a licence and run a satellite channel from the continent. Extremist groups and individuals from the Middle East funded these channels on the sly as tensions between the Arab world and Iran reached dangerous levels.

It did not help that Iran ws meddling in the affairs of of neighbouring GCC countries and Arab Sunni countries, while using proxies for political and sectarian agendas in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Tehran’s provocation heightened bad blood in the Gulf. It came to head when former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain’s execution was recorded by former Iraqi National Security Advisor Muafaq Al Rabiei, who sold the video recording to some satellite TV channels.

GCC leaders advised Iran to desist from such actions which only sow discord among nations and peoples, but Tehran continued backing the former Shia-majority government of President Nouri Al Maliki, who ignored the rights of the Sunnis in the country. The road to reconciliation was not taken and we are now paying the price.

Arab countries want a united Iraq and a government for all people in the country, while Iran envisions a Shia region in the country, which will take orders from the regime in Tehran. A coalition of Arab Sunni countries is also fighting the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have rejected democracy and the legitimacy of the Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi government.

It must be clearly stated here that the GCC is not against any sect, but Arabs will resist and confront all manner of sectarian hatred infused with political colour that is promoted by the regime in Tehran. Arab countries are for unity and will fight to stay as one — with Shias and Sunnis living side by side. Sectarian divisions should not pave way to new political boundaries. We will seek solutions, but if they cannot be found, we are prepared to fight, and not yield to a common foe.

malzarooni@khaleejtimes.com


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