Media Skepticism of Arab Dictators Needed
Today Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post wrote about an alleged trend of Sunni Muslims in Syria to become Shi'a in support of Hassan Nasrallah and Hizballah. The evidence of this trend is anecdotal, but certainly significant to the extent that it is happening. I thought this paragraph rather suspicious, though:
...The burgeoning of Shiism is worrisome to some Sunnis. Sunni leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt all have warned of the increasingly influential "Shiite crescent." The crescent stretches from Afghanistan through Shiite-ruled Iran to Iraq, where a newly empowered Shiite majority holds power, across Syria to Lebanon, where Hezbollah makes its base and Shiites are estimated to be the largest religious group...
This would have been better if the second sentence had began, "This alleged crescent stretches..." This paragraph accurately states what Arab rulers have been saying as they view the worrying trends of open politics and fair elections in Iraq. Yet there are problems with almost every element of the theory; the Shi'a make up a weak minority in Afghanistan, in Iraq they follow the teachings of religious authorities opposed to Iranian Shi'a state ideology (even SCIRI, the most Iranian of Iraq factions, now follows the marjas of Najaf, not Tehran), Syria has a very small Shi'a minority (a few converts notwithstanding) and while the Shi'a may well be the plurality now in Lebanon, they are the most isolated faction in the society. The most popular Sunni, Christian and Druze leaders form an anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon's parliament. And it isn't clear that the Shi'a are even a plurality; this is Hizballah's claim, and while their percentage has been growing in recent decades for sure, the Sunnis could also be a plurality.
The bottom line is that the "Shi'a crescent" theory is a bogus concept mouthed by Sunni rulers concerned that their time could eventually be coming to an end. The successful development of a stable and mature democracy in Iraq would embolden both Saudi Arabia's Shi'a minority and its secularist and Islamist opposition. While the Saudis have terrorist enemies, they also face moderate Islamists who seek a more democratic regime, a non-Saudi one. Newspapers should be more careful in their wording in order to avoid stating as fact the self-interested claims of illegitimate rulers.