Friday, July 20, 2012

Shi’ism in the Persian Gulf Essay

Shi'ism in the Persian Gulf Essay

Shi’ism is a part of Islam. This religion has become stronger with the flow of time and has not only become an influential religion but also a considerable political power. It has a great impact on the geopolitics of Islamic World and international relations. Thinking out different scenarios of the future of this power will let make predictions about possible scenarios of world politics. Shi’ism, which was regarded as a minor sect of Islam till recent time has become an influential factor in international affairs. The word “shi’ia” is translated like partisan or follower and is usually used for those who believe that succession of Muhammad is a special right of his family. Shi’its believe in returning of Prophet Muhhamad, which can be compared to the returning of Jesus Christ in Christianity. Some time ago Shi’its have separated from Sunni majority, because Sunni followers believe that all religious authority belonged to Ali. Despite Shi’its are not as numerous as the representatives of Sunni sect. In general, Shi’ites make about 10% of all Muslim population of Arabic countries.
Statistics show that there are about 120-200 million of Shi’ites in the world. Shi’its makes majority of Iran, Iraq and Bahrain population. Shi’its also possess a considerable impact in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afganistan, Pakistan and India.

Historically, Shi’its population leaves in the part of Persian Gulf, where more than 75% of all oil reserves are situated. “Thus we can estimate that 50 percent of the world oil reserves are under the feet of Shi’ite people. The countries with a Shi’ite majority—Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq - 20 percent of the proved oil reserves of the total world. If the eastern part of Saudi Arabia with its majority Shi’ite population is included, this figure reaches 45 percent” (Khadduri 134). At the present moment oil produced by Shi’it countries makes 8.8 per cent of the world oil production. Iran produces 5.1 percent, while Iraq produces 3.3 per cent.

But potential of this region is much higher and most of the countries with oil resources plan to increase production in the future.

She’in Bahrain 
The She’a Muslims in Bahrain make a majority. They are geographically dispersed all over thirty-five islands of the Persian Gulf. They speak the Arabic language and share most Bahrainis’ traditions but their belief differs from that of Sunni Muslims, who make the minority of the country. “The major division between Bahrain’s Sunni and She’a faiths derives from a dispute dating back to the 7th century over who were the true successors to Muhammad, Islam’ original and primary prophet, with the She’ following Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law” (France Presse).

Bahrain used to be ruled by Portuguese, British and Persian leaders. In the 19th century there was a kind of agreement between Khalife ruling family and Great Britain. This family gained the power in the country and protected the British border. Great Britain, in its turn, guaranteed security for Bahrain. In 1971 this state got its independency. There was created special Assembly by Sheik Isa ibn Salman, which consisted of elected members. In the year 1975 the Amir decided to dissolve this Assembly. His actions naturally led the rising tide of discontent. The opposition to the regime was hold by small but well organized groups – She’a Muslims. After Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa’s death in 1990 She’a Muslims activated their resources and provoked unrest in 1994-1999. They wanted to renew Assembly and to end unemployment. “In February 2001, voters approved a referendum on a new National Action Charter, which included legislative changes such as a reformed constitution calling for a partially elected bicameral legislature and a constitutional monarchy. The country officially became a constitutional monarchy in 2002, and in October more than half of the eligible voters participated in the first elections since 1973, electing 40 members of the Council of Deputies” (Badran).

The new parliament included about ten representatives from She’s Muslims but that is incredible few in comparison with a proportional representation of their population. Nowadays She’a people suffer from unemployment despite all the democratic changes in the society. There has been reached some progress in this issue in the recent years. Some She’a professors got job and She’a citizens are not allowed to get positions in the security forces. Nevertheless, salaries are not the same for the minority group and the majority one. “As a result, many Shi’a citizens, while acknowledging the positive steps that have been taken since 2000, view many of the reforms as cosmetic and demand the government do more to significantly improve their economic status” (Badran). They remain second-class people. Being ruled by the Sunni minority She’a Muslims are discriminated in almost all spheres: political, economical and cultural. The ruling class has unlimited power over all the population so can use this power as it is suitable. The government strictly checks all the political parties and organizations and so possibilities of the She’a community are limited. Nevertheless, She’a citizens organized the Islamic Enlightenment Society in 2001 and the Islamic Action Association (Islamic Action Society).

Media is also under total control, so hot political discussions are not allowed. Such state of affairs makes it almost impossible for She’a leaders to criticize political actions and decisions of the ruling class.

She’a in the Saudi Arabia 
Shi’ism has always being under threat and pressure in Saudi Arabia. The hardest pressure Shi’its experienced in the 1980s, when confrontations between Iran and Saudi Arabia was especially strong. These two countries politicized Islam and made it a weapon of political confrontation. In the 1980s Saudi Arabia put much effort in order to limit the influence of Shi’ism in the country. It limited the influence of Shi’ism in schools, religions institutions and public sphere. It also tried to suppress Shi’its cultural activities, prevent Shi’it leaders from activity and not let people make religious rituals. Anti-Shi’ism discrimination, which has always being presented in Saudi Arabia, became especially strong during this time. Iran responded by financing Shi’its organizations in Saudi Arabia and giving them a considerable support. This has changed Iran’s status of the main leader of the Persian Gulf. “The legacy of the 1980s is that political anti-Shi’ism remains a powerful impulse inside and outside Saudi Arabia. The Iraq war and the Shi’ite ascendancy there have rekindled some of the most vituperative sentiment.” (Jones 35) Suadi Arabi has gladly welcome Iraq’s invasion to Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran normalized their relations in the 1990s and this fact the made position of Shi’it’s a little better. Nowadays Shi’its are minority in Saudi Arabia and make about 11 per cent of all population but the situation gets better at the present moment as repressions on Shi’ism became less during the recent time.

She’a in Kuwait
Positions of Shi’ism are very strong in Kuwait. Despite this country has experienced major political changes during the last decades including Iraq invasion of 1991, Shi’ism did not lose its influence. In the middle of the 1980s Shi’ia lost influence in the country. Iraq invasion also resulted in the increase of Shi’ia oppression, because they were regarded as those, who support Iraq. Shi’ia people, who make about the quarter of Kuwait population, experienced much oppression when Kuwait supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Such actions resulted in desertification of Kuwait society.

Despite Sunni make the majority in Kuwait, Shi’a’s position in this country is better than in any Arabian country ruled by Sunni. Recent reform of the legal system enabled Shi’ia to address their own court of appeal. Since the relations between Kuwait and Iran improved after the 1990s, this also made its contribution to the better position of Shi’ia in the country. At the same time Shi’ism in Kuwait is constantly threatened by Sunni fundamentalism, supported by Saudi Arabia.

During long time after the invasion Muslim Brotherhood was very weak in Kuwait. Only several years after invasion Al-Haraka Al-Dusturiyya Al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Constitutional Movement started gaining forces. Leaders of these movement claim that they have broken any relations with Muslims outside the country. Sunni fundamentalists gradually come back to power in the country.

Despite Shi’ism is a widespread part of Islamic religion, it has different peculiarities in different countries.

In modern world Shi’ism is not a not only a religion. “Because this complex reference system has taken root in the tradition, culture, and very social life of Shi’ism, its power to delineate Shi’i identity extends far beyond mere theological belief. Many “cultural Shi’a” participate in the rituals and folklore of the community not necessarily out of theological fervor but because these have become the vernacular of community self-expression — much as Jewish holidays have strong cultural hold over relatively secular Jews.” (Jones)

If we compare Shi’ism in Bahrain and Kuwait, we will see how social and political factors influence Shi’ia people. In Bahrain Shi’ism has a long history of oppression. This made Shi’ia aggressive in this country. By the long period of time Shi’ia majority is ruled by Sunni minority and this has had a great influence on the mentality of people. Shi’ia population of the country does not get good jobs and good salaries. They experience multiple oppression from ruling Sunni and this finally resulted in aggressive reactions. In Kuwait, where Shi’ia are also in opposition, they have met a comparatively friendly attitude during all the history of the country. Despite some repression after the Iran-Iraq war, general situation with right and freedoms of Shi’ia population is much better in this country. They do not have to be aggressive in order to defend their rights and freedoms.

At the present moment Shi’its makes a powerful Muslim block in the Middle East. Iraq war resulted in becoming this block even stronger and helped to widespread its influence across the Middle East. It is likely that this block will be the most influential power in the Persian Gulf during next several years. “This development also creates political and spiritual leaders of unparalleled international influence.” (Jones) The United States of America voluntary or involuntary helped this block to gain extra power. By destroying the government of Saddam Hussein the US helped Shi’it majority to come to power in Iraq. This added extra power to the Shi’it block in the Middle East.

Shi’its do not support terrorism and suicide. They base such attitude on the versus from the Koran, which prohibit religious murders and suicide. The Koran Verse states “If you kill one person, it likes to kill all of society”. So Shi’ism, which becomes more and more influential during recent time, is based on principles of peace and understanding. It becomes dangerous in the cases when it becomes a subject of manipulation of politicians.

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