The Sunni-Shia battle for Islam.
The Middle East is a complicated place. And as history has shown time and time again, she refuses to allow others to write her narrative.
Take the so-called "Arab Spring", for example. The democratic elections many Westerners cheered on from the sidelines did not
usher in a wave of peaceful, pro-American, moderate, liberal and secular governments like many assumed, wished and hoped they would. In reality, quite the opposite is what we have seen play out, and it only takes a quick glance at both Egypt and Tunisia to see that. For many outside observers the results have been startling, and possibly even frightening. But for others, they have come as no surprise.
There are two things worth pointing out that are direct results of the Arab Spring, which both Tunisia and Egypt have in common with each other.
The first is that both countries did indeed see the fall of what had been decades-long rule by brutal dictatorships, and subsequently went on to have what most international monitors described as fair, free, democratic elections for the first time ever in their respective countries' histories.
The second is a direct by-product of the first, the ugly stepchild these democratic elections gave birth to: The Rise Of The Salafis
. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, which in turn blew the door wide open for the even more hard-line Egyptian Salafist movement to begin her violent mission
. The same thing can be seen in Tunisia as well. The hard-line Tunisian Salafist movement, Ansar al-Sharia
, which has become much more visible and prominent in Tunisian life and society since the ousting of longtime President Zine al-Abidine bin 'Ali on 14 January 2011, was designated by the Tunisian government as a "terrorist group" in August 2013.
I believe it is fair to say that what we have been hoping for in the Arab World since the beginning of the Arab Spring is in actuality not what has been transpiring. The fact of the matter is that in some key Arab countries, The Fall Of The Dictators
is giving way to The Rise Of The Salafis
And that should be concerning ' if not alarming ' to us all.
But this isn't by any means close to the potentially larger and more explosive
ending the Arab Spring could see. The next chapter in the narrative may likely be much, much more alarming and grave.
The Arab Spring has already shown that The Fall Of The Dictators
means The Rise Of The Salafis
in some of the key, Sunni Arab countries. But what we may be witnessing now is also The Rise Of The Shias
, which, if true, would potentially bring to life ' in an eerie, prophetic sort of way ' the warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently gave in an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro
. Al-Assad has continually warned that any outside intervention into the Syrian civil war would result in a "regional war", yet in this particular interview he also went on to say:
"The Middle East is a powder keg and the fire is approaching today."
Indeed, President Bashar al-Assad is entirely correct; the Middle East is a powder keg and the fire is approaching. If the ongoing conflicts and violence do continue to spiral further and further out of control, bringing increased instability to the region as a whole, some sort of larger-scale, regional war is likely to come about. In other words, the Middle East will explode.
But what if the coming explosion is not the same type of "regional war" that many have been concerned may come about as a result of the continued unrest through much of the Arab World? What if this larger-scale regional war actually turns out to be a full-blown religious war? This religious war, however, would not be a war between religions, but a war within a religion.
The fires burning today between certain extremist Sunni
Muslim and Shia
Muslim elements are rapidly approaching a powder keg the world does not want to see explode. Yet that very thing may unfortunately be inevitable. It seems as if a Sunni-Shia war is in the making, with regional powers and previously long-hidden Islamic extremist groups picking and forming their teams ' their platoons
' as we speak.
While this most definitely is not what we should hope for, it may very well be what we should anticipate and plan for. We must accept that the Middle East is a complicated place, where religious and ethnic lines and divisions run deep. We must also learn to accept that as history has shown time and time again, the Middle East refuses to allow others to write her story. And as brutal and bloodstained as her previous chapter has been, the next chapter in this narrative may be more gruesome and bloody than all the others which have come before.