Eyad Abu Shakra/Shi’ites are Iran’s First Victims

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Arab Shi’ites are Iran’s First Victims
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Asharq Alawsat
Tuesday, 21 Apr, 2015

In the early days of my postgraduate university studies in London, I had a decent and frank Bahraini friend and colleague; he was a cultured and diligent researcher. This was during the time of the Iran–Iraq War, which naturally formed one of our main concerns.

One day, while discussing the war with my Bahraini friend in the college coffee bar, I expressed my surprise that Syria’s president Hafez Al-Assad was siding with Iran against Iraq. My friend smiled and replied: “Actually, I find your ‘surprise’ surprising,” adding that “Hafez Al-Assad is an Alawite, i.e. Shi’ite, and so is the Iranian regime, while Iraq’s political and security leadership is Sunni; thus it is obvious that Assad should back Iran!”

Naïvely I interjected, “but what about the ties of blood, language, history, and geographical proximity, let alone the common Ba’ath party affiliation?!”

To this, his reply was more decisive and came with a wider smile: “No, brother, the true political identity [in our part of the world] is decided by one’s religious sect, and anything else is just talk. Assad knows this is true and behaves accordingly”. He then said that “Iran’s revolution is a ‘decisive junction’ in our region, it is to our benefit and thus we must back it!”

That discussion opened my eyes and mind to the fact that there were several political trends and currents that blabber and lecture about Arabism, nationalist struggle, and common destiny day and night, without really meaning what they utter. Furthermore, despite my knowing full well that my Bahraini friend and colleague did not necessarily represent the majority Shi’ite public opinion, whether in Bahrain or the Middle East in general, I had to accept that many fanatically sectarian Shi’ites, as well as non-Shi’ite radicals, regarded Khomeini’s Islamic revolution a “decisive junction” in the sectarian, religious and ethnic history of the Middle East.

With regard to Lebanon—where I claim a better understanding of its fabric compared with that of other Arab political entities—the reality of the country’s Shi’ites was essentially quite far from the image drawn for them by Khomeini’s Iran, and later imposed on them by it through Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s Shi’ites lived in different socioeconomic environments at least until the 1950s and early 1960s. South Lebanon was basically a land of village-based agricultural feudalism, while Northern Beqaa was dominated by a clan/tribal structure. As for the Shi’ites of Mount Lebanon, most of those primarily living in the Byblos district and Southern Metn coastal areas are very much part of the local socioeconomic scene.

Ideologically, the Shi’ites of present-day Lebanon produced formidable nationalist figures on both the Lebanese and Arab levels. The Beqaa-born Rustum Haydar (1889–1940)—a royal adviser and cabinet minister in Iraq—was among the Arabist elite in the 1920s and 1930s. Another Shi’ite, Adham Khanjar, who hailed from South Lebanon, was a leading figure in the struggle against the French mandate; his arrest followed by his execution sparked the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925.

In the Lebanese sphere, Sabri Hamadeh, Ahmad Al-Ass’ad, Adel Osseiran and Yusuf Al-Zain were highly respected leaders in Lebanon’s struggle for independence in 1943. Later on, as Leftist, nationalist and other radical parties emerged, Lebanon’s Shi’ites were at the forefront of the country’s political life, more so during the Lebanese War (1975–1990). The Lebanese well remember dozens of prominent Shi’ite leaders and martyrs like Dr. Hussein Mroueh, Dr. Hassan Hamdan (nom de guerre: “Mahdi Aamel”), Moussa Shu’aib and Sanaa’ Muhaydli, who have nothing in common with the current state of “Shi’ite Subjugation” imposed on the community in Lebanon. All of them fought for “another Lebanon” that has nothing to do with the current “Shi’ite-dominated” Lebanon, and never believed in their community acting as a “fascist authoritarian” behemoth.