Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Crackdown on Shia in Egypt

How naive of the US government to trust the Saudi royal jarab to deliver justice.

'Early last week, Amnesty International released a report highlighting the misuse of the “counter-terrorism” pretext by the Saudi Arabian government. The novel justification was used to perpetrate, according to Amnesty, human rights violations of “shocking” levels in what was an “already dire human rights situation”. Among the many cases cited in the report as evidence, mention is made of Hani al-Sayegh; a Saudi-Shi’a citizen who along with eight others, has been detained for close to 13 years “without trial”. The nine detainees, who have become widely known in the Eastern Province as Al-Mansiyoon (the Forgotten Ones), were detained in connection with the Khobar Towers bombings in 1996.

Interestingly, investigative journalist Gareth Porter retraced the details before and after the bombing in a recent five-part series of articles in which he points out:

“The Saudi regime steered the FBI investigation toward Iran and its Saudi Shi’a allies with the apparent intention of keeping U.S. officials away from a trail of evidence that would have led to Osama bin Laden and a complex set of ties between the regime and the Saudi terrorist organizer.” – (Inter Press Service, ‘Al Qaeda Excluded from the Suspects List’, 22 June 2009)

Today, the grim realities that have historically faced the Shi’a community in the Saudi Kingdom have little changed. In the predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province, reports of arbitrary detentions (including of juveniles) and cases of sectarian harassment are regular occurrences. Mai Yamani, a Saudi national and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that the “[s]uppression of the Shi’a is … a part of the Kingdom’s strategy to counter Iran”.

This posture is by no means unique to the Saudi Kingdom; indeed the same story is repeated in Bahrain, Kuwait and increasingly over recent years, in Egypt. In early 2006, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak declared: “Shi’as are mostly always loyal to Iran and not [to] the countries in which they live”. Not surprisingly thus, Egyptian media outlets upped the sectarian-ante following Hizbullah’s altercation with Mubarak during the Gaza war, which was shortly followed by the uncovering of a “Hizbullah-cell” in Egypt.

Since then, the Egyptian press has gone into a whirlwind of frenzy, labelling Shi’as and also – it must be strongly underlined – members of the popular Sunni socio-political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, as “traitors”, “agents of Iran”, and an “inseparable part of the ‘Evil Crescent”. The give-away exposes, unmistakably, the underlying rationale for Egypt’s sectarian agenda. With the pattern of (deceptive) use of the sectarian card to silence critics of Mubarak’s regime firmly taking shape, the US administration – in requital – has pulled their man closer.

Media outlets are just beginning to reveal the extent of the wide-scale crackdown on the country’s Shi’a population following the high-profile arrest of leading Shi’a cleric Hassan Shehata at the beginning of this month. The director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Hossam Bahgat, warned that the hostile treatment of Shi’as by the Egyptian security apparatus – motivated by the climate of “political tension between Cairo and Tehran” – could return to “explode in the face of the Egyptian regime”.

On the back of the most recent (reported) raid in which 13 citizens were detained on charges of spreading Shi’ism, the aggregating numbers of those targeted by Egypt’s sectarian-crackdown are truly shocking; for a country in which Shi’as supposedly account for only one-percent (1%) of the overall Muslim population (90%), early reports suggest in excess of 300 detentions in mere weeks.'

--Ali Jawad

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