Changing Status of Shiites in Arab World
Hamza Hendawi of AP reports on the implications of a Shiite-majority Iraqi government for Arab world politics. He points to the Shiite majority in Bahrain (though the emir there is a Sunni), and the substantial Shiite populations in Lebanon, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Hendawi notes that Shiites have no legal right to practice their rituals publicly in Egypt. This fact is breathtaking. It would be as though Protestants could not open a church and worship in Italy or Ireland.
Hendawi interviewed me and others for this piece:
‘ ” As Iraq’s majority Shiites emerge from a history of brutal repression under Saddam Hussein, free at last to speak their minds and practice their religious rituals in public, experts are busy assessing the impact.
”Iraq seems to me now to be creating the first officially multicultural country in the Arab world,” said Juan R. Cole of the University of Michigan, a prominent American expert on Iraqi Shiites.
”It will be the first Arab country to have an elected Shiite majority in parliament … if things work out as planned,” he said.
Sunni Arabs and Kurds, however, point to what they see as sectarian behavior by some Shiite politicians. Shiites are divided among themselves and lack a unified leadership. The more secular among them worry that the clergy could turn Iraq into an Iranian-style theocracy. Iranian clerical influence is already keenly felt in the Shiite south of Iraq.
”If the empowerment goes relatively smoothly and the Shiites handle their new power and more significant role well, it can be a source of both the reassertion of Iraqi Shiism’s leadership role and a source of pride for many Shiites, especially those in the Gulf,” said John L. Esposito of Georgetown University. ‘