The Arab Shia: Between Arabia and Persia
RUSI Newsbrief, 31 May 2011
By Michael Stephens
Recent developments in the Gulf following the entry of Gulf Co-operation Council troops into the Kingdom of Bahrain have stirred once again the age old debate about the unity of the Arab world. The focus of this division is the split between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, a problem that has undermined the unity of the Ummah (the world community of Islam) since the earliest days of the faith’s inception. Strategic competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for primacy in the Gulf has exacerbated the split from being one of theology, social location and economic welfare into a far more serious power struggle with military implications. The struggle may force the many Shia in the Arab world to make a choice between loyalty to their nation and their ethnicity as Arabs and loyalty to Iran – the focus of the Shia spiritual and political world.
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Further Analysis: Middle East and North Africa, Iran