Not Ignorance, But Feigned Ignorance: Iran And Its Exploitation Of The Shiite Card

14 Jan 2012

By Mshari al-Zaydi

Amidst the clamour of the so-called "Arab Spring", it would be incredibly nave to deny the existence of a significant overlap between the internal and the external, the international and the regional, the sectarian and the nationalist, the secular and the religious, and the imaginary and the real.

Iran, with the "resistance" camp alongside it, has its own calculations and interpretations on these events. Iran wants to direct matters along its desired path. Thus, it considers what is happening in Syria to be an American Zionist Gulf conspiracy against the "hero" Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Meanwhile, it regarded what occurred in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya as pure and virtuous revolutions inspired by Imam Khomeini.

Iran, together with the supporters of politicized Shiite religious parties across the world, deemed what happened in Bahrain to be a legitimate revolution seeking to topple the regime and establish an Islamic republic, under the guise of the Arab Spring which has become a new pretext for any old agenda. We saw the national flag of Bahrain being hoisted in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala during the recent religious festival of Ashoura, attended by millions of Shiite followers.

To rule out this external dimension, represented primarily by Iran and its exploitation of the Shiite card in the Gulf region, is not out of ignorance, but rather feigned ignorance.

As the pressure on the Syrian regime intensified, we saw a member of the regime's militia (the Shabiha) appearing on Addounia TV, the mouthpiece of al-Assad's supporters, calling upon Iran to mobilize the Shiites in Saudi Arabia against the state.

After the recent events in al-Qatif, Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, during a Friday sermon in his capacity as temporary Imam at Tehran University, addressed the royal Saudi family saying: "You have to relinquish power, leave it to the people and let them decide on a popular government," according to Iranian state radio.

Iranian instigation has not exclusively targeted the Saudi arena, but it has also extended to Bahrain and Kuwait, and to anywhere a Shiite presence exists. However, even when a Shiite presence is not in place, Iran has tried to invent it, as was the case with Egypt.

Iran wants to play the Shiite card for its own benefit in its regional battle. It does not hesitate to exploit the country-specific demands of the Shiite citizens, regardless of how legitimate or lawful they might be. Iran has even gone as far as drafting Shiite citizens into terrorist operations, in order to serve the interests of the Iranian regime. The most recent such operations included the killing of the Saudi consul in Karachi, the failed attempt to blow up the Saudi embassy and the Bahrain Bridge, as uncovered by Qatar, and the targeting of the Saudi ambassador in Washington. In previous years, we can cite the blasts at the Khobar Towers in 1996, the hijacking of Kuwaiti planes in the 1980s, the bombing of the Sadaf Company in 1988, and the events during the 1987 Hajj, alongside many other incidents. Thus we can only be amazed at the total ignorance displayed in a recently issued statement, signed by some Saudi citizens. The statement relates to the Qatif incidents, and denies the existence of external interference there. It also condemns the act of blaming foreign influences and connections, and questioning people's allegiance to the country under regional or international banners.

To be frank, Iranian foreign intervention is crystal clear, and such rhetoric does nothing to hide this. The following question remains: Is there a need to establish and consolidate the principle of true citizenship, and abolish sectarian discrimination?

The answer is a decisive "yes". In this context, I hope that Gulf Shura Councils and parliaments, especially the Saudi Shura Council, issue a draft law punishing the incitement of hatred, whether sectarian or non-sectarian.

No sane and loyal person would argue against the importance of such a step. However, turning a blind eye to the Iranian threat and the outrageous exploitation of the national demands of the Gulf's Shiite communities leaves us facing one of two interpretations: Either we have become immersed in Iranian propaganda under the pretext that everything is permissible in the Arab Spring, or we have returned to the theories of resistance and opposition that have poisoned the media atmosphere over the past decade, thanks to Mohammed Hassanein Heikal and his disciples across the region.


A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat's opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism



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