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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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Shia Muslims No Longer Dominate

Vlist Iraq’s The newest grand shrine in the holy city of Najaf, said to be the world’s largest cemetery, has become a pilgrimage site for people across the region who want to pay homage to two modern-day heroes of Shiite Islam. One of them was Qassem Suleimani, the longtime commander of the foreign-armed Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps); the other is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Iraq’s most powerful umbrella Shia militia, whose grave lies at the holy site. (Soleimani is buried in southern Iran.) The two died in Baghdad three years ago in a U.S. drone strike against Soleimani, whose job it was to protect the Shia revolution and bring it to the fore. spread throughout the region.

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Fellow Shiites from Lebanon and Bahrain, as well as Iraq and Iran, arrived by bus at the shrine to pay tribute to the couple as they carved out a Shia fiefdom, providing a rare moment for their sect, which About 15% of the world’s Muslims serve victorious throughout the region. “We will never again be shoe shiners and street sweepers in the Middle East,” said a militiaman from Lebanon, referring to centuries of Sunni Muslim rule like those that still rule Egypt, The same goes for people in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc.

Had it not been for the US invasion of Iraq 20 years ago, Shia might never have made a comeback. Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 launched a program to uplift minorities in the region. But the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime heralds its spread, replacing it with Iraq’s Shia-majority system of government. The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings further destabilized the Sunni order in the region, creating a power vacuum that Iran has often sought to fill.

Under Iranian command, Shia militias have poured into Syria from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Lebanon, the Shia political movement and militia Hezbollah has become the dominant force in the country. In Yemen, a Shiite revival militia carrying Houthi banners stormed the capital Sanaa. Shia militias fired drones into Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Sunni Islam, from the north, south and east, attacking the royal palace in the capital Riyadh and briefly crippling half the country’s oil supply. In 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan lamented that the new “Shia crescent” was endangering the old Sunni world.

Shia clerics trained in Iran’s religious capital Qom lead Lebanon’s Hezbollah, much of Yemen, three of Iraq’s six major Shiite parties and Iran itself. Their main shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala attract more pilgrims than Saudi Arabia’s Mecca. They routed the Sunni jihadists who established a caliphate that stretches across eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. They have amassed a vast arsenal, with an estimated 150,000 missiles pointed at Israel alone. Shia Iran has realized its age-old dream of reaching Lebanon via Iraq and Syria by land and, more recently, by air.

But the Shiite era may be over. The Iranian regime is in trouble, facing opposition in the streets and within its crumbling, aging ruling circles. Iraq is mired in corruption, sporadic violence and mismanagement. Succession crises are brewing in both countries. “People realize that the Islamic order is reaching a dead end,” said Ali Taher, director of the Bayan Center, a Baghdad think tank.

One reason is that the clergy are not good at managing the economy. Incomes plummeted, currencies plummeted, and inflation soared throughout the Shiite Crescent. The Lebanese pound is the world’s worst-performing currency this year. The Syrian pound has fallen from 47 to the dollar in 2011 before the Arab Spring to 7,550 this year. Iran’s economy has struggled since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. Its currency has since fallen from about 45,000 riyals to a low of about 580,000 riyals against the dollar. (Before the 1979 revolution, a dollar bought 70 riyals.)

from new moon to moonlight

Iraq should have bucked the trend. Of the Shiite states, only it has maintained ties to the global economy under US tutelage. But its power brokers squandered its oil wealth. In the wider region, Shia militia leaders exploit the black economy, overseeing smuggling rings and mass-producing recreational drugs. Even in Lebanon, once a major banking center in the Middle East, Shiite leaders are responsible for disastrous mismanagement of the economy.

Democracy in Iran, which bills itself as a beacon of Shiite rule, has shrunk, even within its strict clerical regime. Turnout in the 2021 Iranian general election is the lowest since 1979. In Iraq, Shiite turnout has more than halved from 80 percent after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and could be down as much as 20 percent in 2021 when independent candidates top the polls. In areas south of the Lebanese capital Beirut, support for Hezbollah, which still dominates the region, is said to be dwindling.

The decline in Shia Islam’s popularity has been most pronounced in Iran. Mass protests used to erupt about every ten years. Since 2017, it has erupted every few years, spreading from the main city to the provincial capital. They now include Iran’s working class, long seen as the base of the regime, as well as students and the middle class. A recent poll showed that more than 80 percent of Iranians approve of the current protests.

As discontent grows, many Shiites are losing faith, not only in the ideology of the ayatollahs but in the religion itself. Taqlid, the practice of strict obedience to the ayatollahs is weakening. Women in particular want to escape religious dress codes and clerical patriarchy. Many are increasingly ditching the veil, which the regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, once hailed as the “flag” of the Islamic Republic.

In Iraq, protesters have also begun attacking clerics who support the political system through fatwas. “In the name of religion, we have been robbed by thieves,” one banner recently declared. In some mosques in Baghdad’s middle-class neighborhoods, clerics have abandoned their Friday sermons because they no longer draw crowds. Surveys show that while most Iraqi Shiites still respect their ayatollahs, they no longer follow them blindly, especially when it comes to personal observance.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, is unwell. His succession is fraught with doubts. No frontrunner appears to be able to revive the regime’s fortunes. Iran’s turbaned president, Ebrahim Raisi, has been mocked by fellow clerics for his lack of religious credentials. Mr Khamenei’s son Mojtaba found them by teaching in Qom. But his nomination would smack of dynastic rule abandoned by Iran’s revolution.

The options are limited because Mr Khamenei long ago silenced Mohammad Khatami, the former president who has called for “fundamental reform” of the system. Another predecessor to the post, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was hunted down before his death. Former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was under house arrest for 13 years, recently called for a referendum on whether Iran should remain an Islamic republic.

Some insiders suggested, Islamic Revolutionary Guard CorpsHossein Salami may try to seize power if the clergy cannot unite the country. A political analyst in Tehran speculated that the Legion might even offer a “new social contract”.this Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Already in control of Iran’s armed forces, parliament, intelligence services and roughly 40 percent of the economy, a coup is far from unthinkable. “We’re living in suspended animation between one era and another,” said a university lecturer.

should Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Once in power, says one government adviser, it will jettison the isolationism of the clergy and reach out to the West “. It can accommodate Iran’s wealthy business class and even the diaspora, which has long been at odds with the ayatollahs. foreign people. this Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps It may even drop or reduce Iran’s support to its allies abroad, such as in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It could build on Mr Khamenei’s recent decision to rebuild relations with Saudi Arabia, the republic’s fiercest Sunni rival.

long beard, long face

Iraq is facing its own cleric succession crisis. This is less overtly political because Iraq’s electoral system is not under the control of a theocracy like in Iran. Iraqi clerics are often reluctant to rule directly, preferring to push their candidates from the sidelines, although some, such as the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have led from the front.

Even so, politicians generally seek the blessing of clergy, such as Iraq’s 92-year-old chief ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2013, when Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State threatened to take over the entire country, Sistani called on all Shiites to take up arms. But he recently withdrew from politics, and no clear successor has emerged. “Times Maria is ending,” said a Shia commentator, referring to the font of Shia religious authority. Mr Sadr may harbor ambitions to replace Mr Sistani as the leading figure in the Iraqi clergy, but many others Shiite leaders all strongly opposed him.

In any case, Iran has been working to prevent its satellite from detaching since the U.S. assassination of Soleimani and Mahdi al-Muhandis in 2020. “They are asking why we should be a proxy for Iran,” said an analyst in Beirut close to the Hezbollah leadership, when asked why Hezbollah agreed to a U.S.-brokered maritime deal with Israel last year. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is also going about his own business. He was recently honored in the United Arab Emirates, visited Oman and hosted the Egyptian foreign minister. Despite close ties to Iran, Iraq’s latest government may have angered Iran’s rulers by becoming more friendly with Sunni-led states in the Gulf.

Iran and Iraq remain a pair of powerful Shiite states. But they’re both a mess. They and their allies in the region began hedging their bets. Throughout the Sunni world, King Abdullah’s striking words no longer scare people.

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