The Sunni Shia divide – not so much
STRATFOR had this scoop posted on its website today,
“Egypt: Sources Say Presidency Consulted with Iranian Military Official on Security:”
Essam al-Haddad, a foreign relations aide for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, met Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in Cairo from Dec. 26-30 to discuss Suleimani’s expertise in exercising control over state security, unnamed sources said, Dr. Jacques Neriah, reported Jan. 3. Muslim Brotherhood leaders arranged the visit, angering Egypt’s Interior Ministry, sources said.
Clare Lopez, Senior Fellow at the Washington, DC – based Center for Security Policy commented:
STRATFOR earns kudos for this scoop about the recent visit to Egypt by Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani but evidently missed its true significance. Suleimani has no direct responsibility for ‘state security’ inside Iran but he does hold the portfolio for external liaison relationships with Iran’s jihadist partners: al-Qa’eda, HAMAS, Hizballah, the Taliban — and now, it appears, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Suleimani’s discussions with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood representatives signal the revival of historically close relations between these two pan-Islamic jihadist organizations: the Khomeinist regime that has ruled Iran for 33 years and the Muslim Brotherhood that has now seized power in Egypt. The ideology of both prioritizes Islamic unity for the sake of jihad against Christians, Jews, and all not yet subjugated to Islamic Law.
This is an alarming development that should sound a tocsin across the region as well as the West and especially in Washington, D.C.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has had a role in protecting Egypt’s over 2.2 million Shia minorities, in part because of their shared pan-Islamist doctrine. Note this comment from a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs article on Egypt’s Shia minority by IDF res. Col. Dr. Jacques Neriah,“Egypt’s Shiite Minority: Between the Egyptian Hammer and the Iranian Anvil:
While some 90 percent of Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, the number of Shia in Egypt has been estimated at up to 2.2 million, including “Twelvers” and Ismailis. A Shiite dynasty, the Fatimids, conquered Egypt in 969 and ruled the country for 200 years.
[. . .]
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has consistently sought to avoid entanglement in the Sunni-Shia controversy and has downplayed Shiite efforts to convert Sunnis as marginal. They have further claimed that Sunni-Shia strife has been instigated by the U.S. as a way of dividing Muslims. The Sunni and Shia, they argue, comprise one Muslim nation that must unite in order to confront “the American Zionist project that seeks to eradicate Islam.” The standard Muslim Brotherhood position has been that the Shia are Muslims for all intents and purposes, and that the differences between Sunni and Shia pertain to matters of jurisprudence that are of secondary importance, not to principles of faith. But this general formula became insufficient in view of the Shiite conversion debate and virulent attacks on Shiite beliefs and practices.
Historically, as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has downplayed religious differences between Shia and Sunni, they have argued that Twelver Shiism should be recognized as an acceptably orthodox school of Islamic jurisprudence. Thus, the Brotherhood effectively serves as a counterbalance to the Wahhabi/Salafi-led campaign to vilify Shiism. In this way, the Brotherhood’s ecumenical approach has helped make Sunni society increasingly more open to Shiite religious proselytizing.
Lopez commented to this author that a 1958 Al -Azhar fatwa held Shi’a Islam was as valid for a Muslim to follow as Sunni. Moreover, the Iranian Islamic Republic Constitution recognized the Four Schools of Sunni Jursipurdence (Fiqh); Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali.
Thus, pan-Islamism trumps the alleged Sunni Shia divide. Moreover, despite the contretemps exhibited over Syria by Morsi at the Non –Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran in August 2012, Morsi and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have aligned themselves with the Shia Mahdists in opposition to the US and the West. This looks like another ‘foreign policy success’ by the Obama Administration inadvertently forging a unified Jihadist Middle East following the fundamentalist uprisings across the region in the Arab Winter.