Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sunni Versus Shia in the Middle East - The "Shia Crescent"

The so-called "Shia Crescent"
In 2004, after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the coming to power of a Shiite government in Iraq, the Jordanian King Abdullah came up with a controversial phrase that is still widely used in the Middle East: there was, King Abdullah stated, a "Shia crescent" that went from Damascus through to Tehran, passing through Baghdad along the way.  To these countries, I would also add Hezbollah in Lebanon - as I noted in my previous post, Hezbollah has been a staunch supporter of the Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah, of course, can be considered effectively a satellite of Iran, as Hezbollah is largely funded and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  

The Sunni feared at the time that the Shiites of the Middle East were gaining power, and that the Iranians might even seek to find ways to covertly overthrow the conservative Sunni regimes of the Persian Gulf.  With the civil war in Syria, and the Alawite Shia regime in Damascus at serious risk of being overthrown, the Sunni states of the Gulf now see an opportunity to turn the tide against Iran and cut a gaping hole in the Shia crescent.

The easiest way to understand this is simply to look at who is supporting the Alawite Shia regime in Syria, and who is funding the Sunni opposition:

Supporters of Assad

  1. Hezbollah
  2. Iran
Providing funding and support to the Sunni rebels in Syria
  1. Saudia Arabia
  2. Qatar
  3. Turkey
The Saudis and Qataris are providing funds to the Sunni rebels,while the Sunni Turks are openly providing the rebels with territorial and logistical support.  Turkey had been on friendly terms with Assad, but has become disgusted with him and they are also fearful of any chaos in Syria spilling across their borders.  In addition, as this article in the online magazine notes, there is a growing rivalry between Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran to be the dominant regional power in the Middle East.  Below again is a map of the percentage of Sunnis and Shiites in each country in the Middle East.  Apologies that its' a bit blurry on the numbers, but I think its' still readable!

Demographics of Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East

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