Iran-Egypt rapprochement impossible amid Shia-Sunni dichotomy

Khalid Amayreh , Tuesday 5 Feb 2013

Until Iran abandons, or at least significantly mitigates its parochial sectarian approach to the predominantly Sunni Muslim region, prospects for a dramatic breakthrough in Egyptian-Iranian relations will remain modest at best

Under normal circumstances, closer relations between Tehran and Cairo would be beneficial for both countries as well as for the Muslim peoples of the Middle East.

At the popular level, most Arabs had welcomed the Khomeini revolution. Speaking for myself, I remember that while studying at the University of Oklahoma in 1978, I once was mistaken for an Iranian student when the local college newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily, had my picture spread on its front page, with the explanatory text beneath reading "this Iranian student must be quite happy now that Shah Muhammed Reza Pahlavi has left Tehran's Mehrabad airport."

I still vividly remember how I frequently joined Iranian students in their often noisy anti-Shah demonstrations on US campuses. Some of the Farsi slogans that we shouted then were "Istiklal Azadi, Hukomati Islami" (Independence , Freedom, Islamic government) and "Tauh Margi Shahi Khaen, Nehzat Idameh Dorad"  (Until the death of the treacherous Shah, the revolution will continue).

A lot of water has passed through the Nile since then and a lot of pleasant and unpleasant happenings occurred on both side of the isle, which might prompt people with too much good will to say dismissingly "let bygones be bygones."

However, there are two hard inextricably entwined issues spoiling Iranian-Arab relation, issues that must be resolved honestly and decisively.

The first issue is the ostensible Iranian determination to spread Shiism at the expense of Sunni Islam in a number of Arab countries including Egypt. This brazenly daring and short-sighted policy underscores the fact that Iran's clerical establishment doesn't recognise the legitimacy of Sunni Islam. Iranian spokespersons would swear that this is not the case. But the money and efforts Iran has "invested" in cajoling some ignorant and poor Sunni Muslims to convert to Shiism belie and refute any denials to this effect.

In fact, Iran has a shameful record in treating Sunni Muslims both inside and outside Iran. Even today, 1400 years after the Prophet Muhammed, the two main Shia theological seminaries in Najaf and Qum refuse rather vehemently to issue Fatwas or edicts prohibiting the habitual cursing by Shias of the Kholafa'ao al-Rashedeen (the rightly-guided Caliphs).

This is not a minor issue by any standard of imagination. Indeed, one can state with all honesty and certitude that this is the most important obstacle impeding genuine historical-Shia reconciliation.

In the final analysis, Islamic solidarity, let alone brotherhood, cannot be reached if one Muslim says "Abu Bakr may Allah be pleased with him" whereas another Muslim keeps saying "Abu Bakr may Allah curse him."

Similarly, the Iranian clerical establishment should instruct its followers to stop adoring and venerating the murderer of Omar Ibn al-Khattabh. The disgusting scenes of Shias glorifying Abu Loa'loaal Majousi's memorial tomb speaks tonnes, even mountains of anti-Sunni hatred and animosity.

Another point, until this day, there is no place of worship for Sunni Muslims in Tehran, although thousands of Tehranis are Sunni.

It is more than mind-boggling that Rome allowed Muslims to build a large Mosque while the capital of the Islamic revolution is fanatically refusing to allow Sunni Muslims, including diplomats from dozens of predominantly Sunni states, to have their own mosque.

There is a small story I would like to relate before leaving this point. Before his death a few years ago, Sheikh Ahmed Waeli, a prominent Shia scholar from Iraq, tried to justify the Shia tradition of cursing Sunni Muslim symbols. He claimed that the cursing was initiated in response to the cursing of Ali by the Umayyad dynasty.

With all due respect, this is a big lie. True Sunni Muslims reject and disown anyone cursing Imam Ali, the Shias' quasi-god figure who is also the fourth of the previously mentioned rightly guided caliphs adored by Sunni Muslims.

But while Sunni Muslims resolutely disown the cursers of Ali and his household, the Shia Ithna Asharis (the twelvers) enthusiastically glorify and revere with utmost respect those who malign the religious symbols of Sunni Islam. So where is the golden maxim of mutual respect?

Indeed, how can any honest Shia demand understanding, let alone respect, from Sunni Muslims when Shias refuse to shun their repulsive ancient habit of cursing the companions of the Prophet?

The Shias claim, I believe mendaciously, that they are following the family of the Prophet Muhammed. Well, I challenge them to follow the family of the Prophet. If they do, truly and sincerely, we won't hear them curse the companions and wives of the Prophet since neither Ali nor his sons and grandsons ever cursed or spoke ill of the companions of the prophet.

Actually, the opposite is true, as Ali and his progeny befriended and even intermarried with the Companions of the Prophet. (Ali had his own daughter married to Omar).

The other main issue hindering a constructive modus vivendi between Iran and Egypt is the ongoing dark embrace and cordial alliance between Iran's clerical regime and Syria's genocidal sectarian junta.

Needless to say, much of the blood of the estimated 65,000 Syrians so far murdered by the Hitler of Damascus is decidedly on Iranian hands.

It is Iran, along with Russia and some other international players, that has prolonged the life-span of the nefarious regime in Damascus.

I have been living under the Israeli military occupation ever since it started in 1967, and in all honesty I can claim that Israel has not done to us in 46 years persecution and repression what Bashar Al-Assad has done to his people and country in two years.

I know that what I have said is probably politically incorrect and might be used against the Palestinian cause by Zionist propagandists. But the truth must be proclaimed, even at the risk of committing a propaganda blunder.

There is no doubt in my mind, that the murderous Iranian complicity in the Syrian genocide is the ultimate expression of Iranian hatred of and ill-will toward Sunni Muslims. I am sorry that Iranian maliciousness and nefariousness have reached this point. But Iran has only itself to blame. Iran bears full responsibility for the reactions and boomerang effects its criminal involvement in Syria has generated among Sunni Muslims. The scars will take a long time to heal, if ever.

The writer is an American-educated journalist living in Occupied Palestine.

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