Let there be unity

IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with King Abdullah opens a new chapter in what is undoubtedly unfolding as an unprecedented period in modern Middle East history. The mayhem in Iraq coupled with Israel’s summer skirmish with Hezbollah brought pockets of the long subdued sectarian minority back to life across the region, just as Iraq’s civil war was seriously threatening to spill over into wider Arabia. Therefore, as representatives and effective heads of the two sects, Saudi Arabia and Iran have done the right thing by showing solidarity regarding key regional issues, especially sectarianism.

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Published: Mon 5 Mar 2007, 8:28 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:58 AM

Importantly, the summit took place at a time when both countries were placing themselves for a more dominant regional role after the chips fell in their places. America’s rage against the Taleban and Saddam’s Baathists removed two of Iran’s most serious concerns. And with Teheran’s good friends now sitting in Baghdad, a more pronounced showing of its reach was only inevitable.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has shifted gears from the traditional watch-your-interest doctrine to an enhanced role in settling regional matters. The success of the Hamas-Fatah Makkah summit attracted instant global attention and subsequent appreciation for the initiative. The meet with Ahmadinejad too falls under this line.

Now, the Iran-Saudi vow to fight sectarianism together sends two important messages. As a first and immediate step, it sends a signal to those carrying out the infighting to stop shedding needless Muslim blood. Secondly, it’s an initiative to show sectarian unity and harmony on the collective Muslim platform and everybody is invited. The latter is a strong political message, meant to counter popular perception that the Muslim split is beyond bridging.

It seems the two sides are bound to meet some more times before the dust eventually settles in the Middle East. And when it does, both are likely to have more responsible regional roles. But before that can be achieved, there is the need to chart the region through some of the roughest waters it has seen, and it has seen some of the worst already. Therefore, the accommodating, flexible yet principled statesmanship that Arab leaders are displaying is very encouraging, strengthening the resolve that this time around, things will probably take a turn for the better.

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