Sectarian Rabble-Rousing

Al-Ahram Weekly, the English language twin of the Arabic daily, is an Egyptian state organ. The Weekly has a broader range of opinion than the tame daily, and does often contain interesting articles. The great Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara, for instance, can be found in the Weekly. Unfortunately, however, Egyptian regime nonsense concerning the Persian-Shia ‘threat’ is also fed into the mix. This article by Galal Nassar is a sad example. Below is my response to his piece:

Dear Mr Nassar

I am not a Shia Muslim. If I were, I would not be a supporter of the velayat-e-faqih system. I agree with you entirely that the velayat-e-faqih concept is a perversion of traditional Shia ideas. I also agree that velayat-e-faqih leads to authoritarian government, to the detriment of Iranian society.

If it is authoritarianism that bothers you, however, I wonder why you single out Iran, which is at least a semi-democracy. The dictatorship in Egypt seems a much better target, especially after the mass arrests of recent weeks. Another good target is the barbaric dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. As a Sunni Muslim, I am outraged by the Wahhabi perversion of Islam that holds sway in that country.

Your argument leaves logic behind when you write of the Egyptian Ikhwan, “I simply fail to understand why a group with such a long history of suffering, apparently in defence of Islam and Muslims, subscribes to the concept of velayat-e faqih. Cannot they see that all Iran wants is to establish sectarian governments everywhere and use them as satellites of a revived Persian Empire? Haven’t we learned anything from the events in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza?”

The Ikhwan do not subscribe to the velayet-e-faqih concept. Of course they do not, as a Sunni movement, aim to import Shia heresies. What Mahdi Akef said is that he does not fear Iranian influence in the region, and in this he is entirely correct. The idea that Egyptian or Syrian or Palestinian Sunnis are about to convert en masse to Shi’ism, or to begin obeying every whim of Khamenei, is quite absurd. So is the implication that Hizbullah or Hamas are Iranian creations. Both of these movements are rooted in their own societies. It is true that Iran, to its honour, has helped these movements (and also true that Hizbullah, as a representative of Lebanese Shia, chooses to identify itself with the Iranian revolution). If the Egyptian dictatorship offered help to Hamas and Hizbullah, as the Egyptian people would like it to, then there would be no need to seek help from further afield. I do not approve of everything that Iran has done in Iraq (nor of everything that Saudi Arabia has done there), but I am not so blind to the history of that country as to believe that the Shia revival has nothing to do with Ba’athist suppression of the Iraqi Shia.

I wonder if you can really believe that the imaginary ‘Persian empire’ is more of a problem than the very real American empire, with its military bases in almost every country in the region, and its near-total control over the foreign policies of key Arab states, Egypt included. The real division in the region is between those forces who are supine before American imperialism and Zionism, and those forces, much more democratic, that believe in resistance. Sectarian rabble-rousing serves as a distraction from this division, and it is extremely dangerous to the health of our societies.

Yours sincerely

Robin Yassin-Kassab

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