The di­vided Is­lamic world

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — The writer is a free­lance colum­nist based in Ger­many. Shab­bir Ah­mad Email: shab­bi­rah­mad­vet@ya­

HAVE you ever won­dered why Is­lamic coun­tries are in con­flict and en­gaged in proxy wars with each other for the last so many years? Why there is not even a sin­gle Is­lamic nat­u­ral re­source rich coun­try among the de­vel­oped coun­tries of the world? Why there are no world class uni­ver­si­ties in the Mid­dle Eastern Is­lamic coun­tries? Why there are no state of the art health fa­cil­i­ties there? Why rul­ing elite go abroad for med­i­cal treat­ment pur­pose?

Why mil­lions of peo­ple from these coun­tries mi­grated to other coun­tries? Is­lamic world is di­vided into two camps based on the sec­tar­ian af­fil­i­a­tion which has taken a rather po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic shape in the con­tem­po­rary world. The ri­valry be­tween Saudi Ara­bia. and Iran has di­vided the Is­lamic world into two blocs. Ma­jor­ity of the Is­lamic coun­tries side with one of these coun­tries in all mat­ters of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance. Mid­dle East has changed dra­mat­i­cally since 2010, when Arab spring up­ris­ing broke out on a stag­ger­ing scale. Set­ting aside the con­spir­acy the­o­ries, the main driv­ing force for the Arab spring was a call for free­dom, so­cial jus­tice, rep­re­sen­ta­tive po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tems. In all con­flicts in Mid­dle East Tehran and Riyadh are stand­ing be­hind at least one of the groups which has led to a cold war be­tween the two coun­tries. Saudi Ara­bia has re­cently formed a 34 coun­tries anti- ter­ror­ism coali­tion in which Iran, Iraq and Syria were not in­cluded. In Syria, and also in the con­flicts in Iraq and in Ye­men, the fight­ing fronts run pri­mar­ily along sec­tar­ian lines.

The es­ca­la­tion in the Mid­dle East also has to do with Amer­ica and its chang­ing role in the world. Af­ter decades of en­mity with Iran, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama wanted to restart a di­a­logue with the coun­try. He negotiated a nu­clear treaty with Tehran last year. US is hop­ing that the deal will limit Iran’s abil­ity to pur­sue a nu­clear weapon while mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the coun­try to do busi­ness with the West in re­turn. Saudi govern­ment had ex­pressed its con­cerns over the US- Iran deal. Iran, mean­while, fol­low­ing decades of iso­la­tion, have re­verted to its for­mer po­si­tion of re­gional im­por­tance.

Last year Saudi Ara­bia launched a mil­i­tary ini­tia­tive in Ye­men against the Shi­ite Houthi rebels. Later Iran in­ter­vened which has fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rated the sit­u­a­tion. Some harsh state­ments were is­sued from both sides. Some of the other coun­tries covertly sup­ported one or the other side. Un­for­tu­nately the ul­ti­mate vic­tims of this tug of war were the com­mon peo­ple.

Last year of­fi­cials at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos con­vened a meet­ing be­tween se­nior Saudi and Ira­nian of­fi­cials to pro­mote peace in Syria. But the par­tic­i­pants of the meet­ing clashed be­hind closed doors. This barbed ex­change be­tween Saudi Prince l and Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter un­der­lined the hos­til­ity be­tween the two Gulf ri­vals, who have waged proxy wars in Syria, Ye­men and Iraq. Ear­lier this year Saudi Ara­bia ex­e­cuted a lead­ing Shi’ite cleric that out­raged Ira­ni­ans. Af­ter­wards protests started in Iran and a large num­ber of protesters stormed the Saudi em­bassy in Iran. Af­ter two weeks, Riyadh broke off diplomatic re­la­tions and cut off trade and trans­port ties with Tehran.

This Cold War be­tween two Mus­lim coun­tries af­fects the en­tire world, mak­ing it vi­tal to search out its causes and to scru­ti­nise what is push­ing Saudi Ara­bia and Iran to con­tinue on the path of es­ca­la­tion. They need to re­solve their is­sues through di­a­logue. In­stead of wast­ing their re­sources on proxy wars they need to in­vest these re­sources on the wel­fare of their masses. The In­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity needs to me­di­ate peace process be­tween the two coun­tries which will go a long way in main­tain­ing peace in the world.

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