The Arab Spring has added an entirely new dimension to the discussion of Shia geopolitics, writes Cenap Çakmak (Eskisehir Osmangazi University, Turkey) in The Review of Faith and International Affairs (summer). Due to lack of national identity and sentiments in the Middle East, when a more democratic order is established, Shiites will be prone to organize around a group that promotes a Shiite identity, according to the author. While there had been overstatements regarding the alleged threat of a “Shia wave,” going as far as to claim that Palestine might turn Shia if measures were not taken, and while a common Shiite identity does not always take precedence in group identity (for instance in Azerbaijan, where national identity takes first place), developments of recent years within the Arab world can help facilitate the emergence of a Shiite Crescent beneficial to Iranian foreign policy interests, the author adds.
Mixing pragmatism and ideology, Iran would like to become a dominant regional power. It has expressed empathy for some of the popular uprisings in the region, seeing them as conducive to its goals, but not all of them: for instance, it has remained supportive of its Syrian ally in front of popular protests, and it has strongly reacted against uprisings on its own territory. Shiites currently make up between 10-13 percent of the Muslim population around the world. They are the majority in Iran (90 percent), Iraq (60-65 percent), and Bahrain (70 percent). There are significant percentages of Shiites in various other countries, such as Lebanon, where estimates place them between 35-45 percent. Shiites are not all eager to support Iran, since they understand that the country uses them as pawns, but there is a growing sense of Shiite interconnectedness among Shiites across borders. A lack of allegiance to their own governments and feelings of alienation makes them susceptible to Iranian influence in its promotion of Shiism as an ideological resource and a source of identity, Çakmak concludes.