Despite divisions among themselves, Iraq’s Shi’a will shape Iraq’s future, and Iraq will be the first Arab country to become openly Shi’a, according to an article by Vali Nasr in the Summer issue of the Washington Quarterly, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Shi’as number around 130 million people globally, most of them living in the area between Lebanon and Pakistan, and making up the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. But their influence is not commensurate with their number, and the Iranian revolution was not able to threaten Sunni dominance in a lasting way. Saudi Arabia has been very active in a strategy of containment against Shi’ism through networks of Wahhabi ulama; for years, Western powers remained sympathetic, since they saw Shi’a militancy as a more serious threat than Sunni activists.
The fall of Saddam Hussein has opened the door to a sea change in Iraq, where Shi’a are experiencing a cultural revival and are growing increasingly prominent. This will affect the relations between the Shi’a and Sunnis not only in Iraq, but in the entire region. The Shi’a will also be demanding their rights and greater place in society, including in Saudi Arabia, where militancy is on the rise among members of the Shi’a minority, remarks Vali Nasr, who is a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian politics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
This means that the Shi’a revival will be one of the factors threatening Saudi stability; at the same time, the Kingdom can no longer support those fighting for Sunni predominance without supporting forces that directly challenge the USA in Iraq. The Sunni-Shi’a balance appears as the key to future regional stability. It will be central to the political outcome “not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia,” Nasr concludes.
(Washington Quarterly, CSIS, 1800 K Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006; http://www.twq.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)