Robin Yassin-Kassab

Sectarian Rabble-Rousing

with 6 comments

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

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 4, 2009 at 11:19 am

6 Responses

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  1. The Arabs divided to Lakhmids and Ghassanids again, each team follows an empire. Since 2000 years till now, “The Following” concept runs in our blood.



    February 4, 2009 at 1:28 pm

  2. except that one empire is real and the other purely imaginary..


    February 4, 2009 at 1:31 pm

  3. The strategy is to try to create the perception that the real threat to the Arabs is Iran in order to deflect the attention from the real threat looming, which the US with its militarised ally Israel.
    I think this strategy has benn for decades in the work, but the circumstances have not allowed so far tob be fully unfolded. It is now becoming more visible because – in my opinion – the dictatorships of the region feel that they are losing ground and on the other side feel that the a new strategic map is being drawn in West Asia without their participation. Therefore they are pushing with their strategy to the limits, with the risks that it will backfire on them, and this is in fact what is happening.
    Meanwhile, I can only agree with every sentence in your letter.

    I have another question: as you know, there are for the moment many polls taking palce about the West-Asia (I hate the name Middle East) conflict in different tv-channels, newspapers,…
    I have heard that the Israeli regime is making huge efforts to influence the outcome of such polls. As you may agree, a media war is being waged to discredit the resistance movement in the arab world. I would like to help in this regard. I was trying to track such sites but the result till now is very modest. My aim is to inform as many friends as possible about such polls so that they can vote, with the hope that the outcom reflects more the reality.
    How can I track such sites?
    Any help to offer?
    Thank you wa’salam.


    February 5, 2009 at 2:45 pm

  4. Well your reply is logical and to-the-point.
    I believe that Egyptian decision makers are exploiting the religious emotional aspects of Sunni Muslims by putting this monster of the Shii sect being the ruler in the Middle East.

    When seeing some movement or a party communicating with Iran and in the same time having a conflict with the ruling figures of Egypt, this automatically would allow them to accuse this party of believing in this velayat-e-faqih and hence the Iranian big invasion project.

    They get overwhelmed by their irrational thinking and passion of obeying the rules that come from their masters, e.g. USA.

    Well apart of all this, did anyone of these decision makers notice the launch of the first Iranian in-house made artificial satellite in the remembrance of the Islamic revolution? OK why not to adapt the good aspects of the Iranian political/industrial systems in order to achieve some level of development as they did already,, instead of bombarding us with pointless speeches in the annual remembrance of the revolution!

    Thanks Qunfuz..


    February 5, 2009 at 10:54 pm

  5. Qunfuz, MashaaAllah you are a brave man in these times defending Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights and grievances.

    You may remember a RAND corporation report from 2002/2003 advocating/encouraging the ‘divide and rule’ sectarian card against Muslims e.g.

    1. Sunni vs. Shia

    2. Mainstream Sunni, the overwhelming majority (labelled as ‘Sufis’ by certain quarters) vs. ‘wahhabis’/’salafis’.

    This only adds to the divisions and tensions in The Middle East whereby nationalistic and ethnic ones already exist e.g. Turks vs. Kurds vs. Arabs vs. Iranians.

    Certain people wish to exacerbate those tensions rather than ameliorate them.

    We have to ask why and whose interests do these divisions and tensions serves exactly?

    Personally I think that only a severe cataclysmic event can make people see the ‘big picture’ but of course this is not my wish.

    Keep up the good work.


    February 6, 2009 at 12:37 am

  6. Anonymous

    February 6, 2009 at 1:03 am

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