Shiites have historically been, to use the words of Fouad Ajami, the stepchildren of the Arab world. They constitute only about 12-15% of the Muslim world; the dominant 85% are Sunni. Shiites have suffered from discrimination for more than 1400 years since the advent of Islam. At times, this discrimination has included murder and mayhem — almost exclusively by the Sunnis who have ruled over them, in places such as Iraq, Bahrain, and probably Kuwait, where Shiites most likely form the majority though no one really knows for sure. Shiites also form the overwhelming majority in the Eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia — the area directly across the causeway which links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia — where most of that country’s oil is located. In all cases, but most specifically Saudi Arabia, whose rulers are Wahhabi and passionately anti-Shiite, the Shiites are treated at best as second-class citizens, and, in places like Saudi Arabia, much worse.
Before the liberation of Iraq, Iran was the only place these Shiites could look to for some protection or sympathy. Both the previous and present governments of Iran looked at themselves as the protectors of the Shiites on the Arab side of the Gulf. The present government of Iran has gone much further and done its best to undermine Bahrain and the oil-rich Shiite areas of Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia. That is one of the major reasons the Saudis and Bahrainis have done their utmost to convince the U.S. to support regime change in Iran.
Iraq, though today ruled by a largely Shiite government, is, because of its inclusive nature, much more concerned about internal developments than in the fate of their Arab Shiite neighbors to the south. Though Iraqi Shiites wish their Arab Shiite brethren and relatives well, Iran is still the major force for trouble in these countries. There are strong tribal connections between all these Shiites which transcend today’s borders.
This is a potential disaster for the world. More than one quarter of the world’s oil transits the Strait of Hormuz at the southwestern end of the Gulf. And more than half of the oil exported from the Arab Gulf countries is located where these discriminated-against Arab Shiites live.
If things continue as they are, then there is every possibility that our interests could suffer a major blow.
Iran’s current government would like their fellow Shiites in the Arab Gulf to overthrow their Sunni rulers and replace them with local Arab Shiites, whom the Iranian government thinks it could easily dominate. To make matter even worse, this Iranian government — probably the savviest government in the Middle East — has been planning for years for the overthrow of many of the Arab regimes, most notably Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt. (Tehran’s tyrants named a street in their capital after the man who assassinated Anwar Sadat.) Tehran has worked for years with Mohamed ElBaradei, the UN inspector who whitewashed Iran’s nuclear program and whom many believe was (or is!) on the payroll of the Iranian regime. Interestingly, Iranian national TV tried not to cover the events unfolding in Egypt until ElBaradei — who has not lived in Egypt for over thirty years — began to speak out against Mubarak and on behalf of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Many Middle Eastern experts, especially in the U.S. government, have argued for years that Sunni fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood hate Shiites and could never work together. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sunni Brotherhood leaders and members of bin Laden’s family have made appearances in Tehran over the years, many times in full public view. These Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists share a common goal of eliminating the West from the Muslim world. Thereafter, they could work out their deadly differences. If things continue as they are, these upheavals could well amount to a huge win for this passionately anti-Western Iranian regime.