FaithWorld

Bahrain crisis could worsen Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions in the region

beirut bahrain

(Rally organized by Lebanon's Hezbollah in front of the U.N. headquarters in Beirut March 16, 2011, in support of Bahraini protesters. Around 2,000 mostly Shi'ite Lebanese demonstrators rallied in central Beirut on Wednesday in support of an uprising by Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim majority/Cynthia Karam)

A Bahraini police crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, two days after Saudi Arabia sent in 1,000 troops to bolster its longtime Gulf Arab ally, will heighten Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Bahrain and beyond. At least five people were killed and hundreds wounded when police cleared demonstrators from Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday in an attempt to halt weeks of popular unrest.

The violence, so soon after the Saudi-led intervention, will further embarrass Washington, which had urged dialogue to tackle Bahrain’s problems and says Riyadh did not consult it before moving troops to the island where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based. That may be the case, but U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain at the weekend. To many Arabs the timing smacks of U.S. complicity in King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s decision to invite the Saudis in and declare martial law. (Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrate in Baghdad's Sadr city on Wednesday in support of mainly-Shi'ite demonstrators in Bahrain  March 16, 2011/Mohammed Ameen)

(Followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrate in Baghdad's Sadr city on Wednesday in support of mainly-Shi'ite demonstrators in Bahrain March 16, 2011/Mohammed Ameen)

The decision to crush a protest movement inspired by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia is conditioned by the sectarian factor in Bahrain, a tiny country seen by the United States and the GCC as a bulwark against the rising power of Shi’ite Iran.

Concern about Islamists masks wide differences among them

holding up korans

(Hamas supporters hold up copies of the Koran at a protest in Gaza City December 26, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia’s Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label “Islamist” pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.

I sketched out a rough spectrum of Islamists in an analysis today entitled  Concern about Islamists masks wide differences. This topic is vast and our story length limits keep the analysis down to the bare bones. But the overall point should be clear that any analysis of what these specific parties might do that ignores their diversity starts off on the wrong foot and risks ending up with the wrong conclusions.

Iran Nazi website reopens, raising issue of anti-Semitism

ahmedinejadAn Iranian Internet site for devotees of Nazi Germany has been allowed to reopen after being blocked briefly by government censors, a news website reported, raising questions about the official attitude to anti-Semitism.

The site, irannazi.ir, says it is the home of the “Historical Research Society for World War Two and the Third Reich.” According to conservative news website TABNAK it was blocked temporarily but then reopened, saying the suspension had been due to complaints by Iranian Jews. (Photo: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva April 20, 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has many times denied the Nazis’ extermination of millions of Jews during World War II. Ahmadinejad angered Israel and its allies by calling the Holocaust a “myth” and a “lie” and has predicted the end of Israel as a state.

Factbox-U.S. cites repression of religious freedom around the world

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its annual survey of religious freedom, citing countries ranging from North Korea to Eritrea as repressing religious liberties.

Following are some of the conclusions from the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report on eight countries previously named as areas of “special concern” over their limits on religious freedom.

religious 1MYANMAR (BURMA)

The report said Myanmar’s military rulers ignored constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political liberties.

Bahrain aims to control vote amid Sunni-Shi’ite tension

bahrainBahrain’s elections on Saturday are unlikely to bring change to an assembly with little clout, but the government is leaving nothing to chance as it tightens security and makes it tougher for majority Shi’ites to vote.

Critics say densely populated Shi’ite areas are not represented in parliament according to their share in Bahrain’s 1.3 million population, and in some cases Shi’ite voters, of whom 300,000 are registered — have been moved to Sunni areas where their votes have less impact. (Photo: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, December 15, 2009/Stephanie McGehee)

“The types of rules and laws that are passed still favour the Sunni elites over the majority Shi’ite population,” said Theodore Karasik of Dubai’s Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The Shi’ites are angered because they want more inclusion in decision-making and they want more jobs in government ministries, but these kinds of legislations don’t come up.”

Christian exodus hurts Middle East: Muslim official

muslims at synodChristian emigration from the Middle East is impoverishing Arab culture and Muslims have a duty to encourage the presence of Christian minorities, a Lebanese government adviser has told a Vatican summit. (Photo: Muhammad Al-Sammak (R) at the synod for the Middle East bishops, October 14, 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Mohammad Sammak, a Sunni Muslim who is secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, told a synod of bishops on Thursday the declining number of Christians in the region was a concern for all Muslims.

“The emigration of Christians is an impoverishment of the Arabic identity, of its culture and authenticity,” said Sammak, who is an adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He added that maintaining the Christian presence in the Middle East was a “common Islamic duty.”

Former Iranian chief justice rises to senior Shi’ite rank, eligible to be next leader

ayatollah 1The former head of Iran’s judiciary has attained a senior Shi’ite clerical rank, joining a handful of men eligible to become supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian websites.

The Kalame opposition website said Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who ran the justice system from 1999 to 2009, had become a marja-e taqlid (source of emulation), meaning that people may choose him as their personal spiritual guide. (Photo: Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi in Tehran, January 11, 2005/Raheb Homavandi)

“Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi announced himself as a source of emulation on Tuesday. He issued his resaleh (thesis interpreting Islamic law),” the website of opposition presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi said on Thursday.

GUESTVIEW: Why stoning Sakineh is a mistake

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. This interview with Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim and Massimo Papa about Iran’s stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani on charges of adultery was originally published in Oasis, a Venice-based magazine on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Martino Diez is director of research at the Oasis International Foundation. sakinehBy Martino Diez .

Professor Naim, what is your assessment of Sakineh’s case?
Officially, the authorities maintain this is a straightforward murder case. Although I have not followed the matter in detail, I think that the ambiguity of the versions produced throughout the years is suspicious and betrays the presence of political manipulation. This poor woman has ended up at the centre of a struggle between different underground factions. There are many cases similar to this. (Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in an undated photo handout from Amnesty International)

About this charge, and especially the (momentarily suspended) sentence, the authorities have invoked Islamic legitimation. Sakineh’s case would be included in the hudùd category, which comprises crimes explicitly defined as such in the Koran itself: murder, adultery, theft, slander and alcohol consumption.

Iran tells world: don’t make woman’s stoning a human rights issue

stoningForeign countries should not interfere in Iran’s legal system and stop trying to turn the case of a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery into a human rights issue, Tehran said on Tuesday. (Photo: Demonstrator against stoning in Trafalgar Square, London, August 28, 2010/Paul Hackett)

The case of the 43-year-old mother of two, condemned to death for illicit sex and charged with involvement in her husband’s murder, provoked an international outcry, with Brazil offering her asylum and the Vatican speaking out against the “brutal” punishment.

stoning 2A government spokesman said the furor was based on false information about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case.  “Unfortunately, (they are) defending a person who is being tried for murder and adultery, which are two major crimes of this lady and should not become a human rights issue,” Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.

Hundreds of thousands mourn Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah

fadlallah burial (Photo:  Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims carry coffin Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut, July 6, 2010/Sharif Karim)

Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was buried on Tuesday, mourned by hundreds of thousands who paid homage to an early mentor of Hezbollah who became one of Shi’ite Islam’s highest authorities.

Fadlallah, who died on Sunday aged 74, was a revered marja’a, or source of emulation, for many Shi’ites across the Middle East and Central Asia. He was seen as the spiritual leader of the militant movement Hezbollah when it was formed after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. When the group was blamed for abduction of Westerners in the 1980s and attacks on U.S. and French targets in Lebanon, Fadlallah repeatedly called for the hostages to be released, saying he opposed kidnappings, and he later distanced himself from Hezbollah’s close ties to Iran.

Fadlallah was known in Shi’ite circles for his moderate social views, especially on women. He issued several notable fatwas, or religious opinions, including banning the Shi’ite practice of shedding blood during the mourning ritual of Ashura.