Islam united in disunity

With the eruption of the Gulf-Qatar diplomatic crisis, the two distinct camps in the Muslim world have become more distinguished and clear.

On the one hand, the Saudi camp, along with Bahrain, UAE, Egypt and others. On the other side, Iran along with Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas and other proxies. The global super powers have also taken sides. Russia works alongside Iran in the Syrian quagmire, and endows support to Iran and Hezbollah in international forums (like forcing the emittance of the name of Hezbollah from the recent UNIFIL mandate resolution). Although the US administration talks of bringing the sides together and reconciliation, at least among the GCC, Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, his statements about Iran and his expressed support for the Qatar isolation seemed to clarify which side he prefers.

The dispute transcends a wide range of issues. Just to mention a few – Syria (Saudi Arabia supports insurgents seeking to topple the Assad regime, while Iran extends vast military and financial support to the regime), Yemen (Saudi Arabia backs exiled President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels), Bahrain (Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the ruling Khalifa family which accuses Iran of stirring internal unrest), Hezbollah and Hamas (Iran supports both extensively, while Saudi Arabia demands a cessation of such support).

While both camps talk of “Muslim unity”, they both continue their proxy wars and harsh rhetoric against each other.

As reported in Newsweek recently, Iranian foreign minister Zarif recently stated “we are prepared to cooperate with Islamic countries on all issues that are important to the Islamic world”, he added “if the Saudi government is prepared to turn the page Iran is ready for that as well”, yet did not disclose how Iran was prepared to cease its activity or change its ways for this reconciliation. Rouhani was also quoted calling for unity, but most hypocritically rebuked “southern countries” for buying military weapons and launching armaments in the region, while totally ignoring Iran’s military build-up and proxies. De-facto Iran is saying, “accept us “as is” for reconciliation or leave us alone”. Those are the Iranian terms.

The Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir responded with the following: “the comments of the foreign minister are laughable, if Iran wants to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, it has to change its policies. It has to respect international law”.

Muslim unity? Don’t hold your breath. The divide between Muslim countries is much bigger that the uniters would like us to believe. And it’s not about the Sunni-Shiite divide – it’s about the nature of the uniters. If Tehran would want to unite the Islamic world while not trying to increase its own influence and export its revolution, the Muslim world could be united already. But as long as Tehran wants to be playing on the field and act as the referee, such ideals are too far-fetched.

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Can the US-Sunni coalition last?

Amidst conflicting agendas and interests, it would seem that the anti-Iran Sunni coalition gelled during President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and participation at the US-Arab-Muslim summit on May 21. The backbone of this coalition is made up of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt.

The official goal of the summit was to position the issue of counter-terrorism as a top priority, building on the “Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism” (IMAFT) established by Saudi Arabia. In this context, Trump announced the establishment of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, co-chaired by the US, Saudi Arabia and the GCC.

But the hidden glue binding the Sunni coalition together is the shared concern about Iranian expansion and the joint fear of the Iranian threat. US secretary of Defense Mattis stated already in April that “everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran”. That was the clear feeling in the room on May 21. Trump, in his speech, detailed some of Iran’s negative behavior, from the support of terrorism, through instilling instability in the region by spreading destruction and chaos to initiating “destabilizing interventions” (specifically naming Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen). He attributed direct responsibility to Iran for the “unspeakable crimes” committed by the Assad regime in Syria. On the practical side Trump called for the isolation of Iran and “deny it funding of terrorism”.

There are a few significant conclusions to be drawn from this event. First, the Trump administration reversed and over-turned the Obama administration policy, siding with the Sunni camp while negating the “appeasing” policy of concessions and allowances towards Iran and its Shiite camp. Second, the US recognizes Saudi Arabia as the religious and political center in the Arab Gulf and Muslim world.

Granted that Saudi Arabia is certainly on board on the Iranian issue, it is still questionable whether the Saudis can be trusted as an ally in the counter-terrorism efforts, given that this country is known for its long term cultivation of extreme elements and “charity foundations” in support of terrorism. Can the US ignore Saudi history of terrorism support and current gross HR violations?

The billion dollar question is whether this coalition will hold together. One Washington Institute paper calls this coalition unsustainable and “unlikely to be affective” due to the conflicting agendas of the members. Among the “conflicting agendas” they designate the lack of consensus around Saudi Arabia, different approaches to extremism, variance in the form of Islam and lack of “shared values, threats and interests”. It may be true that there are conflicting agendas, certainly in relation to terrorism, but it would seem that on the Iran issue the feeling of threat unites them all.

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Saint Rouhani doesn’t need facts

Following on the path of Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times to “rid the world of Wahabbism”, Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the NAM meeting in Venezuela was filled with cynical half-truths and lies which are totally irrelevant of the facts. In fact, he sounded as if he is the president of a neutral country such as Sweden or Switzerland and not a country which is fueled by a strategy of expansionism, is involved in two proxy wars, is accused of numerous efforts to meddle in its neighbors affairs, is openly supporting terrorist organizations, is increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni divide, is oppressing women and sectarian/religious minorities etc…

Rouhani’s speech is all “peace and love” but is devoid of being factual:

  • Tehran is fighting “against extremism and terrorism” – Anyone mention Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda and the Taliban? OK, so one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but doesn’t it bother Rouhani that Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization even by the Arab League? And doesn’t it seem strange that Tehran is supporting al-Qaeda (before and after 9/11)?
  • Tehran rejects the “hegemonic and domineering inclinations” of superpowers – OK but this obviously doesn’t include Moscow, of course, which has become Tehran’s BFF . Rouhani obviously knows that Russia is a superpower and yet, he doesn’t have qualms in allowing Russia to support Assad in his civil war while incessantly warning the US to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps what he really means is “Western superpowers”…that makes more sense.
  • Tehran rejects the support of the “West together with the East” – That was Khomeini’s motto to keep Iran unaligned and independent. Since then, the regime in Tehran has never looked to the West but wait, isn’t Moscow in the East? And isn’t Beijing, another superpower being wooed by Tehran also in the East?
  • Tehran is always ready to help out the “righteous” – Ahhhhhhhh…define “righteous”. Tehran’s definition of the “righteous” just happens to be Shiites and anti-Americans wherever they may be. That doesn’t include Syrian civilians who sided with the rebels against Assad (184,000 deaths to date). It also doesn’t include Yemenites who sided with the government against the Houthis. That doesn’t include the members of the Iranian resistance wherever they may be.
  • Tehran does not interfere “in the internal affairs of “other countries” – Yeah, yeah…Let’s start with Lebanon which has become a satellite state of Tehran through the empowering of Hezbollah. Move on to Syria in which Tehran chose to support Assad who doesn’t represent all of the Syrian people since the start of the civil war which was sparked by his unwillingness to hold free national elections. How about supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government there? Or empowering Shiite militants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait,  and Nigeria? Not interfere? Tehran is the king of the “Meddle East“.
  • Tehran is avoiding “wounds inflicted every day on innocent bodies” – Wow…he obviously forgot about include the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian army and Russia in Syria and the thousands of victims of Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also doesn’t include the 30,000 political prisoners who were massacred in 1988 by the regime. Oh, and the thousands of Iranians who are imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, flogged and executed for not toeing the regime’s line.
  • Tehran operate on a “policy of moderation, prudence and interaction to settle conflicts” – So that’s what it’s called. “Moderation” and “prudence” explain Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen. They also explain Tehran’s meddling and subversive efforts in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Wait…Saudi Arabia…yep, “moderation” and “prudence” explains the latest vicious rhetoric by Khamenei and the rest of the regime vilifying the Saudi leadership and the Saudi religion.
  • Tehran is a “pioneer in engaging in dialogue and talks” – OK, that really depends when the “pioneering” began. Until Rouhani was elected, Tehran consistently rejected any dialogue with the West since 1979. Ahmadinejad’s presidency was notorious for ignoring calls to negotiate and antagonizing possible negotiating partners. Tehran ignored the calls of the IAEA and the UN to hammer out a nuclear deal for years. Perhaps Rouhani should have said “pioneer since 2013”. That’s about right.
  • Tehran is trying to create a “new order” through “cooperation and the collective participation of all the neighbors” – What “new order”? Well, as Zarif pointed out, Iran is different from all countries because it wants to change the “international order”. By this he was referring to the goal and duty, imbedded within the Iranian constitution, to Export the Revolution to the “oppressed”. And then there’s the Global Islamic Awakening against the West or the New Islamic Civilization Khamenei loves to fantasize about. And how about the “cooperation and collective participation”? The people of Syria didn’t ask to import the new order, neither did the government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States aren’t exactly “cooperating” with Iran in developing such a “new order”.
  • Tehran is against “interference of outside powers” in internal affairs – Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Tehran? Against interference? What’s really peculiar is that Tehran doesn’t see itself as “interfering” nor does it see itself as an “outside power”. And yet Tehran is “interfering” as an “outside power” in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc…. Hell, it even invited the “interference” of an “outside power” when it agree to allow Moscow to support Assad in his civil war. Seriously, how can “Exporting the Revolution” not interfere with governments who do not want such a revolution to occur in their countries?

Are you getting the picture here? Rouhani is telling the NAM states what they want to hear: That Tehran is run by a peace-loving regime, is unaligned with any super-power, is fighting extremism and terrorism and is averse to interfere in any country’s internal issues. With such a great message, who cares about the facts?

Mr. Rouhani, it’s OK to believe that if you repeat the same lies enough times, people will believe you. But if you don’t take responsibility for your problems and weaknesses, at some point, your credibility is bound to plunge. Just as in the case of Zarif’s attack on Wahabbism, it’s easy to agree with many of the points that you shared in your speech – if all nations, including Iran, would act according to how you described your regime’s purported guidelines, the world would definitely be a better place to live in. Until then, remember, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time.


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Khamenei divides Muslims over Hajj

With barely three days left before the beginning of the Hajj pilgrimage and no chance for Iranian pilgrims to participate, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is doing all he can to turn the upcoming Hajj into a sectarian riot pitting Muslims against Muslims.

Khamenei’s vilification of Saudi Arabia left no holds barred: “Saudi rulers… who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims’ path to the Beloved’s House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the US…Because of Saudi rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj…The hesitation and failure to rescue the half-dead and injured people (in regards to the Saudis’ purported mismanagement of the stampede in last year’s Hajj in which 2,700 pilgrims died) is also obvious and incontrovertible…They (the Saudis) murdered them (the dead pilgrims)…Blasphemous, faithless…The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarise themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature…They have placed pilgrims from the participating countries under unprecedented surveillance with the help of the spy agencies of US and the Zionist regime. They have made the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody“.

All this, supposedly, because Iran and Saudi Arabia did not reach an agreement on Iranian pilgrims’ participation in the Hajj but the real reason is the ongoing regional conflict, a mixture of cold war and proxy wars, between Tehran and Riyadh. What broke the deal? Well, no one knows for sure but here are some of the details.

  • Visas: Since Saudi Arabia cut its diplomatic ties with Iran following the storming of the embassy in Tehran by an organized mob, the Saudis offered to procure visas through the Swiss embassy in Tehran – no comment on this from Iran.
  • Flights: Saudi Arabia offered to allow direct flights from Tehran – the Iranians claimed that the offer was bogus from the start and that no arrangements for direct flights were made.
  • Politicization: Iran demanded the right to hold “rituals” and gatherings – the Saudis refused fearing that these events would turn into political demonstrations and protests.
  • Sign: Iran was to sign an agreement which was signed by 70 other countries participating in the Hajj – Tehran refused to do so and the talks fell apart.

Whatever the case may be, Khamenei’s vilification of Saudi Arabia on so many levels is bound to be accepted by many Shiites and pro-Iran Muslim pilgrims who might choose to vent their anger at the Hajj leading to another disaster, but this time, with major political and perhaps even military repercussions.

All of this, at a time when Tehran continues to claim that it wants to unify Muslims all over the world under a grand “Islamic Awakening” when, in fact, it is only managing to unify some Muslims against Saudi Arabia and increasing the sectarian Shiite-Sunni conflict.


Khamenei is inciting Muslims to violence

Khamenei wants the world, especially the Muslim world, to believe that Riyadh is to blame and many will believe him. Others will believe that Iran should have signed the agreement and that the Saudis treated the Iranian delegation fairly. And so, despite numerous occasions in which Khamenei, Hassan Rouhani, Ali Larijani, Javad Zarif  and many other Iranian leaders called for Islamic unity, Khamenei is inciting division between supporters of Iran and supporters of Saudi Arabia, Shiites and Sunnis. Zarif in a meeting a few days ago called on Muslims to stop the “illusion of rivalry” in th eregion…maybe he should have spoken to Khamenei earlier about this.

And since pilgrims of both sides will attend the Hajj together, this sectarian division is bound to create another disaster during the Hajj…a disaster which might lead to reprisals and counter-reprisals which could ignite a huge Shiite-Sunni conflict.

Make no mistake, this isn’t another “diplomatic” spat…this is an incitement to violence and war on many fronts:

  • He blames Saudi Arabia for not reaching an understanding which would allow Iranian pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia: this message will incite Iranians, Shiites and pro-Iranian Muslims.
  • He blames Saudi Arabia for being a pawn of “Zionism and the US”: this message will incite Muslims who are anti-American and anti-Israel.
  • He calls on Muslims to “reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of Mecca and Mina: this message will incite all Muslims who are pro-Iranian and anti-Saud.
  • He accuses Saudi Arabia of murdering the victims of last year’s stampede: this message will incite Muslims from countries of the victims.
  • He accuses the Saudis of being “blasphemous & faithless”: this message will incite all devout Muslims.
  • He accuses Saudi Arabia of spying on pilgrims with the aid of US/Zionists: this message will incite participating pilgrims.

This isn’t a diplomatic event…it is a call for violence, bloodshed and war in a holy place which is meant for all Muslims. And the timing is perfect: 3 days before the Hajj, as all pilgrims are getting ready to fly to Saudi Arabia. In  fact the timing is so good that it becomes easy to speculate that Khamenei’s whole anti-Saud speech was planned probably from the day that the Tehran refused to sign the agreement with Iran to allow Iranian pilgrims to participate in this year’s Hajj.

In any case, the whole issue has played out very well for Tehran since it can now try to “Export the Revolution” against its regional rival and nemesis.


Saudi Arabia on the defensive

Riyadh has repeatedly tried to show that Tehran is politicizing the Hajj in order to provoke the Saudis and incite pro-Iranian supporters. In fact, it did manage to create an anti-Iran Arab coalition against terror and a smaller anti-Iran Arab coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. But this case is different and it is definitely more explosive.

The disaster in the last Hajj and the criticism over the way Saudi Arabia handled the disaster gave Tehran an ideal base from which to attack Saudi Arabia. Adding to this the fact that Iranian pilgrims will be forced to stay at home only increases the tension. But what makes the whole situation even more dangerous is the fact that out of the expected 3.5 million pilgrims to attend the Hajj, hundreds of thousands, or even millions, will buy into Khamenei’s populistic portrayal of the situation.

The Saudis are already on edge and have introduced strict laws regarding what the pilgrims can and cannot do. It can take only one anti-Saudi pilgrim to ignite anti-Saudi sentiment which can easily turn into another disaster. But this time, it won’t be viewed as an accident but as a sectarian political event which will give Tehran and other pro-Iranian countries a larger base from which to criticize Saudi Arabia.

And then, of course, there’s ISIS and a plethora of terrorist organizations who are looking for an opportunity to spill blood…a lot of blood. Terrorist can easily enter Mecca as part of the millions of other pilgrims and there are enough local Saudis who want a revolution and who are, in many instances, supported by Tehran in their ventures.

Khamenei’s narrative was as simplistic as it was vicious: the Saudis are mismanaging the holy sites and the Hajj, are responsible for murdering the victims of last year’s disaster, are in collusion with the “Great Satan and much worst, are “bad” Muslims.  The Saudi narrative will sound something like this:

  • It is the responsibility of Tehran that the Iranians cannot participate in this year’s Hajj since Tehran refused to accept the Saudis conditions which are equal to all countries.
  • It is Tehran which is increasing the division of Muslims by inciting Shiites and pro-Iranian Muslims to criticize and attack the Saudi government.
  • It is Tehran’s visions of “Exporting the Revolution” and a “Global Islamic Awakening” which are fueling Tehran’s anti-Saudi attacks.
  • It is Tehran who will be responsible for any blood spilt in Saudi Arabia during this year’s Hajj.

Some will side with Riyadh and others will side with Tehran. Let’s just hope that when Muslims from opposing sides meet, they will discuss prayers and theologies instead of fanning the flames of hate-inducing propaganda.


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