Shias and Sunnis Battle It Out for Mideast Control
USUALLY looking at a map is the way to start analysing an issue in world politics. Syria, for example, is surrounded by six countries: Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.
Turkey equals an overlapping Kurdish minority but safe havens for the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Iraq as a Sunni-dominated country was one thing, but now as a Shia-dominant country, it is scary to the Sunni majority of Syria.
Jordan, a Hashemite kingdom, plays a balancing act but counted on a “stable” Syria, as did almost everyone in the region prior to the Arab Spring.
Especially Israel. The Assad family was militant in its declaratory policy, but never really took on the Israeli army after the 1967 war when Israeli forces occupied the Golan Heights, looking down on Israel proper.
The Palestinian territories are watching the way of the wind, and Hamas in Gaza is already helping FSA. Lebanon is the fall guy. Since 1975, Syria has tried to dominate Lebanon and succeeded for a few decades.
But halt. These aren’t the underlying issues. It’s not just the lines on the map that count, it’s the sectarian fissures. It’s so, so difficult to understand cleavages in “other people’s” religions, especially when they stem from what happened almost a millennium and a half ago.
But what’s really going on in the Middle East is the struggle for dominance of Shias versus Sunnis. Sunnis would dearly love to break the juggernaut that developed once Sunnis lost out in Iraq, with the consequent huge gain to Iran, the only significant majority Shia state.
Small wonder it’s Sunni states that fund the Syrian revolution, to end once and for all the Syria-Iran alliance, occasioned not just by geography but by Alawite (a Shia sect) control of Syria, thence Hizbollah and other smaller entities.
Though still a secular state, Syria now could, and probably now is, easily become a set of fractured entities divided principally by religion.