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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Middle East: “The Islamic Crescent”

Tactical Report: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is talking about a new Middle East, but it may not be the Middle East she is trying to give birth to. Moderate and conservative Sunni Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab Gulf sources agree that by standing up to Israel Shiite Hezbollah has already succeeded in presenting itself as political and ideological leader in the Arab and Moslem world.

This, at a time when the Middle East region looks set to be split among two conflicting axes: one that includes the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Presidency, the other that includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Muslim Brotherhood source says his movement, although Sunni, is now fully backing Shiite Hezbollah in the face of the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment which traditionally forbids siding with Hezbollah on grounds that they are heretical Shiites.

Furthermore, for the very first time, conservative Wahhabi scholars have taken the initiative of defending Hezbollah, and the Shiites more generally, against fatwas issued by other prominent Wahhabi scholars including Sheikhs Ibn Jibrin and Abdulmohsen Al-Obeikan. Saudi Salafi reformists have also called to support Hezbollah.

Saudi sources think the ruling Al Saud family is now worried that Hezbollah is winning some support within the Wahhabi religious establishment. The ruling family believes it cannot afford to allow any rapprochement between the Sunni Salafists and Saudi Shiites.

Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood position gives Islamic groups the opportunity to join forces with liberal, national and secular groups across the Arab world. This in turn helps expand the circle to include Islamic groups in Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan.

A Salafi radical source from Jordan says Al-Qaeda leader number 2 Ayman Al-Zahawiri shocked the Salafi Jihadi groups by calling on the Shiites and the Sunnis to join forces to fight Israel and the United States.

Although Iran and the Shiites ignored Al-Zawahiri’s call, his position has affected the Salafi movement. In Saudi Arabia, there were mixed reactions, while in Jordan and Palestine, the reactions were mainly positive.

A Saudi source says Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel has upset the existing balance. The Sunnis were expected to rally behind Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to fight the “Shiite Crescent” that stretches from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are joining forces with Hezbollah and Hamas within the context of an “Islamic Crescent” opposed to Israel and to the US presence in the region.
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