Aug 10, 2006

Arab leaders fear Shia rise

Arab leaders are visibly fearful of the spread of Shia influence in the region, they see Iran in all of this. King Abdullah of Jordan warned of a “Shia Crescent” stretching from Iran, Iraq, Syria to Lebanon. The rise of Iraqi Shia to power, Iran’s nuclear program and the recent Hezbollah attacks made Arab leaders even more worried.

There are a number of reasons for this fear of Shia power and sectarianism is not one of them. Arab countries have supported Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war and they know Iran did not forget that. There are Shia minorities in the gulf (Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE), but most significantly in Saudi and Bahrain. The recent Shia demonstrations in Bahrain is a case in hand.

However, the major concern for Arab leaders is Iraq. It is one of the biggest and wealthiest Arab countries - if it stabilizes. It has a Shia majority that is closely tied to Iran. Through the Saddam years, Iraqi dissidents – mostly Shia - lived in Iran and many of the clerics (including the powerful Ayatollah Sistani) are originally from Iran. Already Iran has penetrated the Iraqi politics and high society.

In the current Lebanon-Israel war Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt condemned Hezbollah’s actions - even thought the majority of the Arab people support Hezbollah.

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