Thursday, April 13, 2006

Who’s Afraid of the Arab Shi‘a? Egyptian President and Autocrat Hosni Mubarak

During an April 9 appearance on al-Arabiyya, a prominent Arab language news channel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [right] claimed that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, a common theme of Middle Eastern governments dominated by Sunni Muslims and secularists. “It’s not the threshold of civil war,” he said. “It’s [the civil war] pretty much begun.”

In the same interview, Mubarak also accused Arab Shi’ite Muslims of being more loyal to Iran, the world’s most populous Shi’ite state, than their own countries, a charge that is tantamount to calling Arab Shi’ites traitors. "Definitely Iran has influence for Shiites," he said. "Shiites are 65 percent of the Iraqis. ... Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in."

Mubarak’s remarks join a host of others from Sunni Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Sa‘ud al-Faisal and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, casting aspersions on Arab Shi’ites and Iran.

Within days, Sunni and Shi’ite leaders from across the Middle East criticized Mubarak’s remarks, with some calling for the Egyptian president to retract them and apologize.

“This matter does not concern Kuwait at all because history testifies to the well-established and clear national stand of Kuwaitis, Sunnis and Shi’ites,” said Shaykh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the ruling amir (prince or king) of Kuwait.

One hundred-and-twenty-two Saudi Shi’ite clerics signed a letter stating, “These remarks [Mubarak’s] incite the sectarian spirit among the citizens of Arab nations, especially at this critical time for the Arab and Muslim nations.”

Members of parliament in several Persian Gulf states, including Kuwait and Bahrayn, have also called on Mubarak to apologize, as have Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite political parties, AMAL and Hizbu’llah. Hizbu’llah parliamentarian Shaykh Muhammad Yazbeck said that Mubarak’s statements were lies meant to stir tension between Arab Sunni and Shi’ite communities.

Shi’ite clerics across the Arab world have also joined the outcry against the Egyptian president’s sectarian comments.
Lebanon’s senior Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah [left], issued a statement critical of Mubarak, which calls for unity among the Arabs and Muslims in a particularly trying time. “The Shiite Muslims do not denounce their Islamic or Arab commitments,” he said. “And nobody can question their loyalty or their national role, along with their Sunni brothers and the rest of groups and confessions in the Arab world.”

"The loyalty of Shiites to their countries is not less than that of others. Such talk has no basis in reality. What is meant by it is to create a climate of agitation that amounts to telling the Sunnis 'Beware of the Shiite threat!' I think there are some in the Muslim world who are uncomfortable with the empowerment of the Shiites in any nation, and that's because of sectarian extremism or political anxieties," said Fadlallah.

To read Grand Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah’s complete statement on Mubarak’s remarks, see:

In protest, the Iraqi government said it would not attend a Wednesday meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was to discuss the future of Iraq. “I am surprised that this confusion [the remarks] would occur among intellectuals, especially a man with such stature as the president of the biggest Arab country,” said Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari [right], a member of Hizb al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya, a prominent Iraqi Shi’ite party that belongs to the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the lion’s share of the votes in the January elections.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish tribal chief, also expressed his annoyance at Mubarak’s comments.

Influential Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr [left], the head of a powerful religious movement and the armed Mahdi militia, said that in fact Iranian Shi'ites follow Iraq "because the Imam 'Ali [the first Shi'ite Imam, or leader] lived and was buried in Iraq. As Muslims our allegiance is to Islam and as Arabs we are loyal to Arab nationalism and we do not follow anyone."

For more details on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s anti-Shi’ite remarks, see:

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