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Posted by wmmbb in Democracy, Humankind/Planet Earth, Middle East.

The political transformation of the Arab world is as yet incomplete. The inevitable religious element in the process is both expected and intriguing.

Historians have sought to account for the remarkable success of Islam, how quickly it was established and swept through the Middle East, which may have taken as long as the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US. Islam spread quickly both eastward to India then to Indonesia and westward along North Africa to Spain and other parts of Africa. Although it had a military component, it was a remarkable sociological phenomena. Christianity by contrast was born in the matrix of the Roman Empire and more widely dispersed under the umbrella of the motive of gold and profit in turn by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the Americans.

Political democracy seems to have a universal appeal. It is remarkable how sustained the popular protest has been in Syria and by implication how ineffective the repression by the government. And yet in Bahrain, far smaller and abutting Saudia Arabia, repression seems to be working. Both Bahrain and Syria host foreign naval ports.

Aljazeera reported on a police clashing with protesters in Manama on 24 November 2011:

Juan Cole gives more credence to opposition to authoritarian government than to the religious divide within Islam to explain events in Bahrain. He writes:

The protesters in Bahrain included reformist Sunni Muslims. And the conservative forces pressuring the king to crack down on the crowds included the country’s great merchant families which comprise both Sunnis and Shiites. The struggle in these islands, like that elsewhere in the Arab world, was over authoritarian forms of government versus popular democracy, accountability and transparency. The king’s constitution allows him to over-rule both houses of parliament, allows him to appoint the upper house, and allows it to over-rule the lower house. The Shiite protesters were upset that these arrangements, along with gerrymandering that reduced Shiite representation, preventing the majority from asserting itself (Shiites are about 58% of the population). But the discourse was about constitutional monarchy, not about Shiite rule or an Iran-style Shiite theocracy, with some small exceptions.

And he adds:

There is no good evidence for this allegation[that Iran was behind the uprising in Bahrain], which is the basis for the Saudi and United Arab Emirates military intervention on behalf of the Sunni Arab monarchy. Bahrain’s Shiites are Arabs and probably a majority of them belong to the conservative Akhbari school of jurisprudence, which rejects ayatollahs in favor of the ability of laypeople to interpret the law for themselves. Bahrain Shiites of the Usuli school, prevalent in Iran and Iraq, are more likely to look for leadership to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, than to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Bahrain’s Shiites claim educational and workplace discrimination, and dispute a constitution and electoral system that disadvantages them. They are not agents of Iran.

Who knew the Catholic/Protestant analogy might be more aptly applied to Shia Islam more so than the supposed rivalry between Sunnis and Shia, which might be seen as rivalry between Arabs and Persians?



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