Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Comrade Reem in Jadaliyya: how the US converted to Sunni Islam

"Ever since the early Cold War, and Washington’s decision to engage with the Middle East, the US preference for working with religiously conservative regimes has been clear. It has consistently employed divide and rule tactics by supporting these states against regional rivals which they have in common. With Washington’s first “special relationship” forged with King Abdel Aziz of Saudi Arabia in the 1940s, US interests in the Middle East crystallized around privileged access to oil and security cooperation. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, US interests extended to include the assurance of Israeli security and military advantage. As decolonization gathered momentum, the new generation of secular pan-Arabist leaders threatened these US interests, by emphasizing the Arab people’s unity, and rights to sovereignty and independence. US and UK policymakers singled out the Egyptian vanguard of this trend, Gamal Abdel Nasser, for “containment.” They attempted this containment through a combination of intermittent incentives, subversion, and increasing coercion throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Their principal strategy was to build up regional rivals in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan, all conservative monarchies with state ideologies that revere Sunni Islam—rather than unifying, secular pan-Arabism.[2] In Saudi Arabia in particular, members of the religious establishment founded the Muslim World League in 1962 to proselytize Wahhabism, and fostered strong ties with Egyptian exiles, aided by the “petrodollar effect.” The crucial corollary of this was the stifling of national, let alone trans-national, pan-Arab solidarities.
The following decades, the United States worked to secure military bases in strategic locations. It signed defense agreements with the most sectarian of authoritarian leaderships in the Gulf, the minority Sunni monarchy of Bahrain in 1971, among others. The United States has consistently refrained from meaningful censure of its allies’ discriminatory sectarian policies. Such policies include for example, the naturalization of Sunni foreigners in Bahrain, to engineer a demographic majority. They also include police violence against Shi‘a in both Saudi’s Qatif province and across Bahrain. Perhaps one of the must destructive moments of US complicity in sectarianism came with the neoconservative era of George Bush when Condoleeza Rice’s principle of “creative chaos” was put into catastrophic effect during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. In that besieged nation, already under the strain of war and sanctions for well over two decades, the United States’ “early policies eliminated the Iraqi state and symbols of common national identity. Sectarian-minded actors stepped into the vacuum while occupation forces passively observed the unraveling of the national fabric.”"