The Risk – And Threat – Of Arab Sectarianism
Growing Threat Of Muslim Sectarianism
Geneive Abdo of the Brookings Institution examines the rise of sectarianism in the Middle East, particularly in the nation of Bahrain, and how those conflicts will define US foreign policy.
Abdo contends in her analysis that is too easy to dismiss the Shi‘a-Sunni conflict a battle within Islam when the “broader geo-political implications from the rise in sectarianism should be of great concern to the United States as it seeks to preserve its interests in the Middle East.”
While the last decades have been defined by conflicts between the West and Islamic populations, the Shi‘a-Sunni divide could soon replace that broader conflict as the primary challenge facing the Islamic societies of the Middle East, says Abdo.
Furthermore, she writes, it could “supplant the Palestinian occupation as the central mobilizing factor for Arab political life. As Arab societies become more politically active and aware at home in the aftermath of the uprisings, fighting Israel is less of a priority, especially because there are so many domestic crises.”
Infighting Between Sunnis Is Great Risk, Analyst Contends
Eric Lynch disagrees with Abdo’s conclusions, arguing that the next era “will be defined by competition between (mostly Sunni) domestic contenders for power in radically uncertain transitional countries, and (mostly Sunni) pretenders to the mantle of regional Arab leadership,” Eric Lynch argues in Foreign Policy.
“The shift toward a sectarian worldview among Arab publics, evident not only in Syria’s bloodbaths but in bigoted banners in Egypt and the burning down of a Shiite residence in southern Jordan merits more attention than power politics dressed up in sectarian drag. The cultivation of these sectarian animosities could consolidate dangerous fault lines constantly available to ambitious, unscrupulous elites that would prove very difficult to reverse.
Sectarianism Stoked By Syrian War
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby has cautioned Hezbollah not to become embroiled in the Syrian conflict, but that seems unlikely after Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah commited to wage war against what he called radical Sunni Islamist forces, reports Reuters.
In fact, Hezbollah has declared its intention to engage in an all-out war in defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Recent attacks by Hezbollah in Tripoli constitute “unacceptable destructive acts that aim to stoke the fire of sectarianism, provoke reactions and upset security in Lebanon,” Elaraby asserted.
Elaraby’s concern is not unfounded as the Syrian conflict is resulting in an increase of sectarianism in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that the Syrian conflict has “emboldened Iraq’s Sunni minority to challenge its own Shiite government” and renewed fears that Iraq may soon be swept up in a spillover war.