Arabs Must Reject Sectarianism

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, conceived in a backroom of Britain’s House of Commons and drafted on the back of an envelope, rearranged the borders of the Middle East, separating tribal and family members. Arab countries were shared between France and the UK as though they were slices of cake.

That cannot be described as one of history’s finest moments. Arabs who sided with Britain to rid the region of the Ottoman rulers on the promise of an independent homeland were ultimately betrayed. Tragically, there is a further split occurring today, one that is of our own doing, pitting Shiites and Sunnis against one another that plays right into the hands of our enemies.

Arabs are sleepwalking into a trap laid by a foreign power seeking to divide and rule; one that is artfully manipulating its Arab co-religionists to subjugate and oppress their Sunni compatriots.

It is a poison that been injected into Lebanon, Syria and Iraq by the Islamic Republic of Iran through the machinations of implanted proxies in its pay so as to further its ambitions of regional domination. I would ask the peoples of those countries who are old enough to remember to think back to the 1970s, an era of proud Arab nationalism when no one was asked whether they were Sunni, Shiite, Christian or Druze. Remember when Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites celebrated each other’s holidays, were partners in business and even inter-marriage was not uncommon?

I am still haunted by my beautiful memories of Lebanon in its glorious, glamorous heyday before its free spirit was choked by Hezbollah. Those were the days when Syrian Allawites were Arab in every sense of the word. Syria and Egypt formed a political union in 1958 — known as the United Arab Republic — that endured until 1961 and Syria partnered with Egypt in Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973. Iran was not in the picture.

I have never visited in Iraq. I wanted to during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to appeal to him directly to withdraw but was deterred by concerned friends and family fearing I might never return. But Patrick Cockburn, writing in the Independent, gives a firsthand account of its vibrancy: “Oil revenues were soaring and administration was effective. New roads, bridges, hotels, schools and hospitals were being built across the city.” He is nostalgic about sitting near the banks of the Tigris eating fish from the river, visiting second-hand bookshops and an auction house selling carpets and artworks. He bemoans that the Baghdad he knew is dying. Its “special magic, the fact that gave the city its peculiar allure, was its complex ethnic and religious mix of Shia, Sunni and Kurds.”

The sectarian divisions that have evolved into armed conflicts and produced armed militias are politically manufactured. Those who would tear us Arabs apart to suit their own agendas are using fiery religious rhetoric for their own ends. We, the citizens of the United Arab Emirates — and all GCC States — have never differentiated between Sunni and Shiite nationals.

We are all Muslims guided by the same beloved book containing God’s message as revealed to the Prophet. We have always lived together in peace. We respect each other, love one other. We celebrate together and mourn together. As much as Iran tries to foment division, it has failed because we are Emiratis. We built our country together and we are all proud of its achievements.

Remembering makes me sad and, yes, angry. We have been manipulated by Imperialist powers. Iraq was destroyed by George W. Bush on a trumped-up pretext. And now Shiites are being lured into the Iranian camp. I would appeal to Arab Shiite communities not to fall for this Persian trickery. Together we are strong, divided we risk witnessing Iraq being split into three feeble entities, Lebanon becoming an Iranian enclave and, now there is talk of federalizing Syria into goodness knows how many postage stamp sized mini autonomous states. Open your eyes wide. See what is happening. Wake up!

The brutality of Iranian-funded and armed militias, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq, the Lebanese militia Amal and the Hashd Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) in Iraq, are scarring the reputation of our Shiite brethren. Those groups that have turned their guns against Sunnis forcing them to flee their homes have strayed from Islam, which stresses unity among Muslims:

Hold fast together to the cable of Allah and be not divided. Remember the blessing that Allah bestowed upon you; you were once enemies then He brought your hearts together so that through His blessing you became brothers. You stood on the brink of a pit of fire and He delivered you from it. Thus doth Allah make His signs clear to you that you may be guided to the right way. (Surat Ali-Imran, verse 103)

Daesh and its affiliates are just as evil. They sicken me. But they are a symptom of the invasion of Iraq to the detriment of Sunnis, an invasion that set Iraq under the Iranian umbrella. Over 100 Islamic State commanders were officers in Saddam’s army, according to the Daily Mail. They were thrown out of their jobs to make way for Shiites. Many were detained in America’s Camp Bucca, the birthplace of Daesh. They, too, must be eradicated.

I call upon all Arab Shiites to reject being used as tools to further Iranian plots. Our Arab World needs you. We want you with us. Do not allow Hezbollah, Amal and the Hashd Al-Shaabi — that represent just a small minority — kidnap your name and reputation. We are not enemies. It is a fake enmity concocted in Qom.

Breaching the growing chasm between us is in our hands. Regaining trust will take unity of purpose and will not happen overnight, but if we do not clasp hands soon, I am concerned for our children and grandchildren destined to live in fear. May Allah preserve us and make us one again!

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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