Shia v. Sunni in the Arab World

Bruce Riedel in The National Interest:

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 24 11.49 Seen from the Arabian Sea the winter of Arab discontent that toppled dictators has turned into a spring of civil war and outside intervention. The Saudi-UAE intervention in Bahrain and the French-British-American intervention in Libya have diametrically opposite goals but both will set in train new waves of change and unrest. Old American alliances in the region are shifting, perhaps even shattering. For the United States, the region's unprecedented changes pose huge challenges. Priorities are key.

The Arab revolt is rooted in youth bulges and dictators. For the 60 percent of Arabs under thirty years of age (the median is twenty-six), there are no jobs and thus no marriages. India has almost the same demographics but is a democracy with 9 per cent growth in annual GDP. Most Arabs have neither. The 2011 redress is really revolt. Only at the extremes of the Arab world—Oman and Morocco—have Arab leaders offered true reforms. King Muhammad and Sultan Qabous have the confidence and legitimacy to promise sweeping reforms. Now we will see if they can deliver. The rest of the Arab autocrats have chosen to stand pat and offer minimal change.

The Saudis goal in Bahrain is clear; no revolution in the gulf monarchies especially by Shia. They intervened in Bahrain to back anti-Shia Sunni hardliners led by the Prime Minister who has ruled since 1961. The aim: to marginalize reformers like the American-backed Crown Prince. The Saudis sent a clear message to the two Shia republics in the gulf, especially Iran but also Iraq, that they will not tolerate Shia takeovers in Bahrain or the Kingdom's eastern province. They also sent a message to Washington: Bush naively gave Iraq to the Shia, Obama won't do the same to Bahrain.

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