In response to the September 11 attacks, the United States occupied Iraq. Baghdad effectively ended up in the hands of Iran, thus leading to the formation of the Shi’i Crescent. Riyadh has been leading the Sunni crusade to derail the march of Shi’ism. At the same time, to protect its nuclear facilities, Tehran has made Hizballah its Mediterranean defense line and Damascus its arms courier. The existence of an atomic bomb component in Iran’s nuclear program may be inferred from the enormous cost of the project. If President Rouhani were truly to abandon the bomb, Hizballah’s army would become redundant and must be abandoned.
In 657, a supreme confrontation erupted on the plain of Siffin, south of al-Raqqah, Syria, between the armies of the Caliph Ali (656-661) and the governor of Syria, Mu’awiyya (661-680). Today, Bashar Asad has turned Syria into the supreme battlefield between the Shi’i Crescent’s partisans of Ali and the Sunnis. This article examines both Shi’i and Sunni exploitation of Islam. Since around 60 percent of the world’s 180 million Shi’a are Arabs and Iranians, the article’s focus is on the Shi’i-Sunni conflicts between Arabs and Iranians. It is noteworthy that while among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims the Shi’a represent some 15 percent, the proportion of Shi’a to Sunnis within the combined populations of Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant is 55 percent. Excluding Iran, the proportion of Shi’a to Sunnis in the Arab world is a third.
This article addresses the genesis of the Sunni-Shi’i conflict, how the ulama (religious clerics) have imposed the mosque over city hall, and constructed Islamic doctrines that have rendered their followers quietists. It also examines how Sunni regimes use Islam to mistreat Shi’a and Shi’i regimes to mistreat Sunnis. Iran’s ascendancy and Iraq’s possible challenge to Iran for the leadership of the Shi’a–particularly Arab Shi’a–will be raised. The article argues that Wahhabism produced al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and the September 11 attacks. In response, the U.S. occupied Iraq, and the government in Baghdad effectively ended up in the hands of Iran, thus leading to the formation of the Shi’i Crescent. Also discussed are Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Riyadh’s desperation to derail the march of Shi’ism.
GENESIS OF THE SUNNI-SHI’I CONFLICT
Since the dawn of Islam 14 centuries ago, the succession to Muhammad’s authority has spilled rivers of Muslim blood. By invoking monotheism, Muhammad concentrated in his hands the powers of all the Meccan gods. Verse 4:59, and a dozen similar verses, of the Koran orders, “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those in authority.” The caliphs stood to inherit Muhammad’s immense power and wealth; thus, the blood over his mantle.
According to Ali’s partisans, Muhammad had publicly “designated” his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his immediate successor. Sunnis, however, reject this claim. Abu Bakr (632–634) was the first caliph, followed by Umar (634–644). Following Umar’s murder, Uthman (644–656) was chosen. He restored to his Umayya clan its former stature, damaged by Muhammad’s condemnation of leading Umayyads for dismissing him as a rebel masquerading in religious garb. Following Uthman’s murder, Ali (656–661) finally became caliph. Yet Mu’awiyya (661–680), the Umayyad governor of Syria, accused Ali of complicity in Uthman’s murder. Ali and Mu’awiyya’s armies met in 657 in Siffin, Syria. Mu’awiyya ushered the Umayyad dynasty (661–750) in Damascus and Ali was killed shortly after Siffin by his former allies, the Kharijites. Ali’s son Husayn was killed in 680 in Karbala, Iraq, while attempting to claim the caliphate from Mu’awiyya’s son, Yazid. To this day, Husayn’s killing has shaken the foundations of Islam. Thus, what started as a dispute over Ali’s caliphate, and later, the martyrdom of Husayn, grew into a doctrinal divide inspiring the creation of dozens of heterodox sects, each outbidding the others in the deification of Ali and his family.
HOW THE SHI’I AND SUNNI ULAMA BECAME MASTERS OVER MUSLIMS
The Shi’i Ulama’s Construction
Twelver Shi’a, representing the majority of Shi’a today, obey the authority of Muhammad plus the twelve imams, beginning with Ali and his two sons (from Ali’s marriage to Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima). Twelver Shi’a believe that the imams are infallible. They believe in the messianic concept of the return to the earth of the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Muntazar (“the awaited imam”), hidden since disappearing as a small child in 874 but who will reappear someday to restore justice and prosperity.
While they believe the Twelfth Imam is in hiding, the senior Shi’i clerics, the ayatollahs, or marja’a taqlid (source of emulation) act as his deputies, revealing to the masses the Hidden Imam’s verdict on all matters. To Sunnis, however, this is sheer blasphemy.
By adapting the messianic concept to the infallible Hidden Imam and appointing themselves as his deputies, the senior Shi’i ulama expropriated the Hidden Imam’s powers, just as Muhammad expropriated the powers of the Meccan gods in the name of monotheism.
The Sunni Ulama’s Construction
When the Muslims fanned out of Arabia to the lands of the Romans and the Persians after Muhammad’s death in 632, they discovered big cities, music, rain, rivers, farms, and different foodstuffs, languages, religions, and laws. To govern, the caliphs needed to expand the Koran’s narrow coverage of legal matters. Of the Koran’s 6,236 verses, Philip Hitti estimated the legislative verses at around 200. These deal with personal status matters.
Thirteen generations after Muhammad’s death, six scholars turned 34,000 of some 600,000 (including repetitions) Sunna traditions (sayings or Hadith and Sira or acts) out into a source of law equal to the Koran. The task of the collectors was formidable; among the thousands of attributers, there were dubious characters and blatantly partisan attributions. It takes a great act of faith to believe the truthfulness of every single Hadith.
With this development, the introduction of two additional sources of law (analogical deduction and the consensus of the Sunni ulama) as well as the four Sunni rites (Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i), which emerged around the same time a thousand years ago, the Sunni ulama completed the construction of their Shari’a. Since that time, they shut the door on philosophical reasoning and further development of Sunni Islam.
The Conflict Between Shi’a and Sunnis over the Sunna and Other Differences
Shi’i scholars reject the Sunni Hadith collections. The Shi’a emphasize Muhammad’s alleged naming of Ali as his immediate successor and stress Muhammad’s affection for Ali’s children. Four Shi’i Hadith collections were produced during the late tenth/mid-eleventh centuries as well as three additional collections during the latter part of the seventeenth century.
While Sunnis record Muhammad’s Sunna, Twelver Shi’a record Muhammad’s Sunna plus that of the twelve imams. Also, for a tradition to be credible, it must be transmitted through one of the imams. Shi’a curse the first three caliphs along with Muhammad’s companions who supported them.
In addition, Shi’a allow pictures of the imams and Muhammad, while Sunnis do not (for fear of falling into polytheism). Shi’a venerate the imams’ tombs and other religious figures and family members, while Wahhabi Sunnis bury their dead in unmarked tombs. Shi’a permit Mut’a marriage (the woman gets paid for her companionship for a period of time) while Sunnis do not. Sunnis permit Misyar marriage (the couple live apart, with the man visiting the woman at her home without obligation) while Shi’a do not. One might refer to Shi’ism as a Persianized version of Muhammad’s Islam. Shi’ism incorporates the ethnic and cultural differences and rivalries between Arab and Persian and the memories of their wars over the long sweep of history.
HOW THE MOSQUE BECAME SUPERIOR TO CITY HALL
That opposition to the Iranian Supreme Ayatollah means a death sentence to the opponent for undermining the “true Islam” and opposition to the Saudi king means a death sentence for undermining the other “true Islam” shows how the opponents are eliminated in Islamic ruled states. In the case of Syria’s Alawi Asad, however, to pretend to be Shi’i, to embrace his Sunni palace ulama, and simultaneously claim secularism shows how alive and well Machiavellianism is in Damascus.
For centuries, Shi’i clerics concerned themselves with the spiritual life of Shi’a. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini changed that legacy in Iran. As the deputy of the Hidden Imam, Khomeini asserted the right of the senior-most Shi’i cleric to oversee all religious, social, and political affairs in his wilayat al-faqih construction, or the rulership of the specialist in religious jurisprudence. Important ayatollahs opposed the new doctrine.
The Arab World
Arab rulers maintain a symbiotic link with Islam. They project an image of piety in order to demand blind obedience from their subjects. In addition to verse 4:59, Muhammad reportedly said, “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey.” Belief in predestination, a core Islamic tenet, inspired the palace ulama over the centuries to opine that even tyrannical rulers must be obeyed blindly because God ordains them.
In return for generous rewards, the palace ulama indoctrinate the masses into believing that blind obedience to their benefactors is a form of piety. Arab rulers use Islam as a psychological weapon to suppress political dissent. Whether at home, the school, mosque, work place, or city hall, Islam is at the heart of Arab resistance to religious and democratic reforms.
In non-Arab Muslim Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey (60 percent of world Muslims) multi-political parties, democratically elected parliaments, and even women presidents and prime ministers are common. Arabs, however, look down on the Islam of non-Arab Muslims.
Wahhabi Saudi Arabia
A cult-like obsession with the intolerant and the violent in the Koran and the Sunna has been the Saudi state’s ideology ever since the kingdom was established in 1932. Wahhabism is based on the teaching of Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 855). Due to its extremism, Hanbalism never generated serious following. Despite active proselytization, Wahhabis make up only 3 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Sunnis.
The al-Sauds’ claim to legitimacy does not derive from belonging to Muhammad’s family or tribe. Hanbali doctrinaires like Ibn Jama’a (1241-1333) and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), employees of the Mamluk generals in Egypt and Syria (1250-1517), justified to their benefactors the seizure of power by force. Riyadh propagates that Islam is more important than life, Wahhabism is the only route to paradise, the al-Sauds are Wahhabism’s staunchest protectors, and that blind obedience to the al-Sauds is an Islamic duty. Political opponents are labeled as “lost deviates” from the “true Islam”–a death sentence in a political system based on religious dogma.
In return for certification that the al-Sauds are great Wahhabis, the palace ulama are allowed a free hand to impose their dictums. A seventh century extremist reading of the Shari’a means a primitive judicial system with a penal code involving public beheadings after the Friday prayers, severing of limbs, and floggings. It also means that women are treated like chattel in order to nullify the political dissent of 50 percent of the society. Christians, Jews, Shi’a, and other non-Wahhabis are denigrated. Jihadists are glorified and promised paradise, with huris (beautiful young women, verse 44:54), wine (verse 47:15), gold, silk, and brocades (verse 18:31). Wahhabi clerics preach that Western political systems, political parties, and parliaments interfere with social cohesion, that Westernization promotes misery and suffering, leading to mixing of the sexes, discarding of the veil, opening of nightclubs and movie theaters, charging of interest on bank loans, and celebrating non-Islamic holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Labor Day.
Riyadh fears Saudi youth in the age of the internet might cast away the Wahhabi straightjacket and demand parliamentary democracy and humane Islam. Sixty-nine percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30 years, and 56 percent is between the ages of 10 and 40 years.
To insulate the country from moderate Islam, Saudi Arabia is the sworn enemy of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and the advocates of Islamic and democratic reform as it is of Shi’a. Riyadh is behind the radicalization of tens of thousands among the estimated one hundred million expatriate laborers from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and others who worked in Saudi Arabia since crude oil prices were quadrupled in October 1973. Wahhabism has also spread through the thousands of Saudi-financed madrassas (religious schools) in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Today, a Wahhabi Arch is facing the Shi’i Crescent and Sunni democratic aspirations.
Hillary Clinton, according to WikiLeaks, wrote in December 2009, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Protected by successive American administrations, Wahhabism produced al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and the September 11 attacks. That Wahhabism did not contribute to September 11 is propaganda promoted by Riyadh and its Western apologists and business beneficiaries–among them captains of industry, media barons, and former senior politicians–especially in the United States. Religious indoctrination cannot be ignored in human behavior. Notwithstanding oil politics, and Western businesses’ obsession with a good deal, it is, nonetheless, bewildering how Western governments would tolerate the regime that released the Wahhabi genie.
A ploy the tiny Asad Alawi minority uses to rule over Syria’s Sunni majority is to exploit verse 4:59. Although most Sunnis do not regard the heterodox Alawites as Muslims, Syria’s Sunni palace ulama preach obedience to their Asad benefactor. To remove a constitutional barrier to becoming president in 1970 (Article 3.1 requires the president to be a Muslim), Hafiz al-Asad “persuaded” Musa al-Sadr, head of the Higher Shi’i Council in Lebanon, to opine that the Alawites are a community of Shi’i Islam.
The Asads have been playing the Sunni card while also proclaiming secularism. Five decades after Hafiz al-Asad seized power, article 3.2 of the constitution continues to specify that Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation. Also, Shari’a law and courts rule over Muslims’ personal status affairs, and Muslim school children are taught Sunni religious textbooks. In his duplicity, to end the drought in 2010, President Bashar al-Asad ordered all Syrian mosques to perform the rain prayer.
MISTREATMENT OF SHI’A IN SUNNI ARAB STATES
According to the August 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 53 percent of Egyptians and 50 percent of Moroccans consider the Shi’a to be non-Muslims. Had the same survey been conducted in Saudi Arabia, the percentage would be much higher. The Sunni ulama preach that Shi’ism is a Jewish conspiracy against Islam. As if to improve their Islamic credentials, Arab rulers find it rewarding to marginalize their Shi’i citizens. Sunni-Shi’i hostility is not new. During Ottoman rule (1280–1918), the Shi’a endured second-class treatment.
Not all Sunni clerics condemn Shi’ism. Mahmud Shaltut, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, opined in 1959 that Twelver Shi’ism was of equal status with the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. However, this opinion and its author were sidelined. Further, not all Muslims partake in this sectarian divide. Prior to the U.S. occupation, in Baghdad and other cities, it was rather common for Shi’i and Sunni families to intermarry.
The mistreatment of Shi’a in four Arabian Peninsula states–Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen–will be presented next, to be followed by the mistreatment of Sunnis in the four Shi’i Crescent lands–Hizballah-controlled Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
Bahrain has a population of 1.2 million. Less than half are citizens and about two-thirds of the citizens are Shi’a. The Sunni al-Khalifa clan has ruled the island since 1783. Bahraini Shi’a are impoverished and marginalized. Of the 29 cabinet ministers, five are Shi’a; of the four deputy prime ministers, one is Shi’a; and of the 40-member appointed Consultative Council, 18 are Shi’a. Shi’a are not allowed to join the police or the defense establishment. Sunni men from Syria, Pakistan, and Baluchistan are brought in to fill such positions. Together with their families, they are fast-tracked to Bahraini citizenship.
Seeking equality with Sunnis, Bahraini Shi’a engaged in generally peaceful demonstrations in 2011 and 2012. Human Rights Watch found that Bahrain’s police resorted to beating protesters, in some cases severely, at the time of arrest and during their transfer to police stations. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, established by King Hamad, issued a 503-page report on December 10, 2011. The commission found that the government used systematic torture and other forms of abuse on detainees. It rejected the government’s claim that Iran instigated the protests.
Kuwait’s population is around 3.9 million (1.2 million citizens and 2.7 million expatriate workers). About 70 percent of citizens are Sunnis and 30 percent are Shi’a (360,000). Among expatriates, 150,000 are Shi’a, making the total number of Shi’a around 500,000.
Kuwait’s Shi’a face discrimination. Of the 50-seat parliament, Shi’i candidates won eight seats in the July 2013 elections. The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 indicates that some textbooks refer to certain Shi’i religious beliefs and practices as heretical, that the government did not permit the establishment of non-Sunni religious training, and that there are no Shi’i professors at the College of Islamic Law at Kuwait University.
Building a Shi’i mosque is an arduous process. Between 2001 and 2012, six licenses were issued, making for a total of 35 Shi’i mosques. As for Sunni mosques, there were 1,200 in 2003. On a per capita basis, there is one mosque for every 15,000 Shi’a compared to one mosque for every 700 Sunnis.
Saudi Shi’a live in the towns and villages of the oil-rich Eastern Province. About two-thirds of the estimated 3.9-million Saudi nationals (excluding expatriates) in the Eastern Province, or 2.6 million, are Shi’a–representing around 13 percent of a national population of 20 million. Wahhabi discrimination against Shi’a is fanatical. Of the 20 appointed members to the Council of Senior Ulama, none are Shi’i, 17 are Wahhabis, and three are from the other three Sunni rites. Of the 150-member appointed to the Consultative Council, only five are Shi’i. There are no Shi’i ministers, deputy ministers, governors, deputy governors, or ministry branch directors in the Eastern Province. Shi’a are discriminated against in admission to universities and government jobs, especially the armed forces, the National Guard, and the police.
Zoning laws in Shi’i neighborhoods are aimed at limiting the density of the Shi’i population. In 2012, the number of Sunni mosques was 75,000, employing 90,000 staff. Shi’i mosques are subjected to a lengthy and arbitrary licensing process and unlike the billions of dollars granted annually to Wahhabi mosques, Shi’i mosques are excluded from government support. The legal testimony of Shi’a is either ignored or considered to have less weight than the testimony of Sunnis.
The publication or importation of Shi’i books and the opening of Shi’i schools is tightly controlled. In the heavily Shi’a-populated al-Ahsa, there are no female Shi’i principals in the 200 schools for girls and only 15 male Shi’i principals in the 200 schools for boys.
Such discrimination is not new. The al-Saud/Abd al-Wahhab’s first rebellion in 1805 (crushed in 1817 by Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali) invaded Karbala and destroyed Husayn’s tomb. King Abd al-Aziz (1932-1953) imposed on his Shi’i subjects the Islamic jizya (penalty) tax collected from non-Muslims. Under King Faysal (1964-1975), Wahhabi ulama declared that meat slaughtered by Shi’i butchers was not fit for consumption by Muslims.
The Isma’ilis, a Shi’i sect, are concentrated in Najran and Jazan in Southwestern Saudi Arabia, bordering Yemen. Isma’ilis are around 675,000, or 3.3 percent of the national population. Isma’ilis and Eastern Province Shi’a represent about 16 percent of Saudi citizens. Isma’ilis suffer as much discrimination as the Shi’a in the east.
Wahhabism raised Sunni antagonism against Shi’ism to previously unknown extremes. The Khomeini wilayat al-faqih construction may be seen as a reaction to Wahhabi enmity. It is a strategy to marshal the powers of the Iranian state in defense of Shi’a everywhere.
Among Yemen’s population of 25 million, Zaydis represent about 35 percent. Zaydis are the partisans of Zayd, grandson of the third Shi’i imam, Husayn. They occupy the rugged northwestern mountainous region bordering southwestern Saudi Arabia. Huthis trace their roots to Muhammad’s family. The last imam was overthrown in a military coup on September 27, 1962, after a thousand years rule.
In 2004, Husayn al-Huthi led a rebellion against former President Salih (1980–2012). Husayn was killed on September 10, 2004. The Huthis consider Salih an illegitimate ruler, despite being a Zaydi; he is not descended from Muhammad’s family. They accuse Salih of confiscating Huthi mosques, allowing Wahhabi influence on school curricula and state policy, issuance of fatwas by Sunni clerics designating the Huthis as infidels, sanctioning war against them as jihad, and hostility toward Huthi rituals.
In February 2010 a ceasefire was reached. However, like previous ceasefires, this proved to be temporary. On March 24, 2011, after the governor fled to San’a, the Huthis declared the creation of their own administration in Sa’da, independent from Yemeni authorities.
MISTREATMENT OF SUNNIS UNDER SHI’I RULE
Shi’i clerics preach that Shi’ism is the “true Islam” and that the Sunnis are usurpers of Muhammad’s mantle. Shi’i parents generally do not name their child after the first three caliphs or Aisha, Muhammad’s young wife who led a revolt against Ali. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Isma’ilis and the Alawites fought on the side of the Christian Crusaders. In 1258, Shi’a were allegedly complicit in the Mongols’ killing of the caliph and the obliteration of Baghdad. Sunni historians argue that whereas Baghdad was destroyed, Hilla, the Shi’i center 60 miles away was spared. The following section describes Shi’i mistreatment of Sunnis in Shi’i Crescent lands: Hizballah controlled Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
Lebanon’s Shi’a are estimated to make up around 40 percent of the country’s population of 4 million. For centuries, Lebanon’s Shi’a suffered from poverty, illiteracy, and poor health. Their liberation started in 1959 with the arrival of Musa al-Sadr, an Iranian-born Lebanese cleric. Al-Sadr replaced the self-pity of Lebanon’s Shi’a by a spirit of defiance. In 1974, al-Sadr formed the Movement of the Disinherited, a political movement aimed at social justice. In 1975, the Amal movement, a militia, was formed. After al-Sadr’s disappearance in 1978 during a visit to Libya’s Qaddafi, Hizballah was established.
Hasan Nasrallah uses the gun to control Lebanon. When Sunni Prime Minister Fuad Siniora shut down Hizballah’s telecommunications network in May 2008, Hizballah’s militia forced Siniora after four days of fighting to revoke the decisions. On May 21, 2008, in Doha, Qatar, an agreement was reached between the government and Hizballah representatives to increase Hizballah-led seats in the cabinet from 6 to 11 out of 30 seats, in addition to granting veto power over future cabinet decisions.
Hizballah is Iran’s military base on the Mediterranean. Nasrallah’s order to capture two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 and the war that followed was conducted on behalf of Iran for three reasons. The first was to divert attention from Iran’s maneuvering with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The second reason was to warn Iran’s adversaries of the havoc Hizballah, Iran, and Syria can cause. The third was to endear Nasrallah to the Arab street. The Mediterranean military base has worked. Threats from Israel and the United States over the past five years came to naught, while the nuclear program continues unabated.
Five years later, Nasrallah launched an all-out defense of the Asad regime. Hizballah’s army is in an existential fight in Syria. Without Asad, it would be strangled. To camouflage his domestic and regional strategies, Nasrallah sugarcoats the bitter pill most non-Shi’i Lebanese cannot swallow with the typical Arab cliché that the target is Israel.
Iran’s population is around 80 million, 89 percent of which are Shi’a and 9 percent Sunnis. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 of the U.S. Department of State reveals that provinces with large Sunni populations suffer discrimination, lack of basic services, and poor infrastructure. It also reports that Sunnis are underrepresented in government-appointed positions in the provinces where they form a majority, such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan. In addition, Sunni religious literature and teachings in public schools are banned even in predominantly Sunni areas; Sunnis may not build new schools or mosques; and, despite the presence of more than one million Sunnis in Tehran, there is not a single Sunni mosque.
Iraq’s population is around 32 million, of which Shi’a represent around two-thirds. The two parliamentary elections in 2005 and 2010 in Iraq’s parliament and cabinet made the Shi’a the dominant force. Sunnis report being subjected to marginalization, unequal distribution of wealth, harassment, illegal searches, arbitrary arrest, torture, and abuse (including women). Sunnis are effectively excluded from national decisionmaking. Sunnis resent Iran’s influence over the Iraqi government.
The constitution, crafted under ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s guidance and approved in the December 15, 2005, referendum specifies in Article 2 that Islam is the official religion of the state, that it is a fundamental source of legislation, and that no law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be enacted. Sunnis worry that the “established provisions of Islam” will be determined by the senior ayatollah. Sunnis believe their marginalization conceals revenge for centuries of privilege.
The Alawites are a minority of around 12 percent of Syria’s population of 23 million. Until the early 1960s when the Ba’th Party seized power, the Alawi mountainous region was poor and destitute. However, all that changed with Hafiz al-Asad’s seizure of power in 1970. He quickly pretended to be Shi’a, wore the Sunni hat, and embraced the secular Ba’th Party’s ideological trinity: Arab unity, liberty, and socialism. He forged a strategic alliance with Iran–notwithstanding the ideological contradiction between the Ba’th Party’s Arab unity and the ayatollahs’ Shi’i unity. He also sided with non-Arab Iran in its war against fellow Ba’thi Iraq (1980–1988).
Asad’s rule is a family business akin to the Mafia. At the core are Anisa–Hafiz al-Asad’s widow–and their two sons. Shielding the core are loyal nephews, cousins, uncles (except the likes of brother Rifa’t, who attempted a coup against Hafiz in 1983), and trusted Alawi soldiers. Opportunistic non-Alawi soldiers and hangers-on form an outer protective ring.
Breaking the law with impunity and siphoning off illicit commissions on government contracts is the glue that keeps this group together. The regime might count on the support of about a quarter of the population. The six referendums since 1970 in which the two Asads consistently won more than 95 percent of the votes were fraud.
In 1980, Hafiz al-Asad machine-gunned hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood inmates in the Tadmur prison. He demolished the city of Hama in 1982 over the heads of its inhabitants, killing many thousands of civilians and Brotherhood fighters. Son Bashar inherited a police state with myriad blood curdling and “Abu Ghraib”-type dungeons manned by sadistic torturers. A million spies snoop everywhere. Victims–often innocent–are arrested and tortured–sometimes to death–without a trace. It is not surprising that three former war crime prosecutors reported on January 21, 2014, “There is clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.” The Asads’ tyranny has been the norm for 50 years.
Bashar al-Asad killed unarmed demonstrators from the first day of the March 18, 2011, popular revolution. He opened the door to Islamist terrorists, some of whom were his own men sent to Iraq to kill Americans following the 2003 occupation. Absence of serious Western military support for Syria’s democratic opposition led to Islamist terrorists dominating the uprising. As Asad’s tattered forces suffered defections and losses, fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Hizballah came to the rescue.
Asad’s use of horrific weapons against mostly civilian men, women, and children killed more than 150,000 citizens, injured several times that number, destroyed entire cities, and turned millions into hapless refugees within Syria and in neighboring countries. Most of those killed, injured, tortured, and the refugees are Sunnis.
Asad turned Syria into the supreme battlefield between Shi’a and Sunnis since the armies of Ali (656-661) and Mu’awiyya (661-680) confronted each other in Siffin, Syria in 657. The indiscriminate destruction of life, property, and social fabric of a conservative society on such a scale ranks Bashar al-Asad among the world’s worst, most monstrous killers since the end of the Second World War. Hafiz Asad and his son embroiled the Alawi minority–and Shi’a in general–in a long-term battle with the Sunnis. The rule of a 12 percent minority over the 75 percent majority is unsustainable, particularly when the regime is tyrannical.
On April 9, 2003, the United States won the battle against Iraq. Yet Iran, without firing a shot, won the war for Iraq–possibly Shi’ism’s greatest moment since Saladin destroyed the Shi’i Fatimid rule in Cairo in 1171 and converted the population to Sunnism. On December 15, 2005, Iraq’s Shi’a controlled the first democratically elected parliament and cabinet. The 2001 elimination of the Wahhabi Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime in 2003 allowed Iran regional dominance. With the departure of American forces from Iraq, Tehran’s grip over Iraq tightened further.
As a 15 percent minority among the world’s Muslims, Shi’a feel empathy toward each other. They share cultural and religious ties. Najaf–where Ali is presumably buried–and Karbala–where Husayn is buried–are the holiest shrines. Others in central Iraq include the tombs of the seventh and the ninth imams in Kazimayn, just outside Baghdad. In nearby Samarra, there are the tombs of the tenth and the eleventh imams plus the Mosque of the Occultation. In the cemeteries of Najaf and Karbala, illustrious clerics are buried. In Mashhad, Iran, the eighth imam is buried. For centuries, millions of Shi’a visited these shrines. Some remained near the shrines to live and die, establishing over the generations a colorful tapestry of ethnicities in southern Iraq, fusing Arab and Persian culture through marriage and trade. Iran’s connection to Muslim Iraq is as old as Islam. Hitti wrote that Arab Islam was influenced and changed by the Persians, and that the caliphs adopted Persian titles, wines, wives and mistresses, songs, ideas, and thoughts.
Iran’s Nuclear Bomb
Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions exacerbate Shi’i-Sunni conflicts and worry Israel. The existence of an atomic bomb component in Iran’s nuclear program may be inferred from the enormous cost of the project. Hizballah’s army is integral to Iran’s atomic bomb program. It exists to attack Israel in case Israel and/or the United States attack Iran. Without the bomb, Iran’s assistance to Lebanon’s Shi’a would be schools and hospitals, not soldiers and missiles.
Since the early 2000s, the costs of Hizballah’s army and its weapons courier regime in Damascus, of UN and U.S. sanctions, as well as the lost opportunity of the resources diverted from economic and social development to the bomb project must add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. To believe Tehran’s claims that these vast sums are for electricity and medical research is naïve–Iran is home to the world’s fourth largest crude oil reserves (155 billion barrels) and the world’s second largest natural gas reserves (1,187 trillion cubic feet).
To derail Iran’s nuclear project, three strategies might be envisioned. The first is expensive; bomb the nuclear facilities. In retaliation, Iran might close the Strait of Hormuz, order Hizballah to attack Israel, and bomb Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) oil installation and desalination plants. The second is for the Rouhani regime truly to agree with the P5+1 on confining Iran’s nuclear activities to peaceful purposes. However, since Iranian scientists have already acquired bomb-making know-how, Iran could restart the bomb program anytime. As a test of his commitment, Rouhani must sever the symbiotic link between Iran’s atomic bomb and Hizballah’s army. Otherwise, this would be but a ruse, with the P5+1 acquiescing to Iran’s regional hegemony. The third strategy is to overthrow the Asad regime. A secular anti-Iranian democratic government in Damascus would emasculate Hizballah’s army, break-up the Shi’i Crescent, and contain Tehran.
IRAQ’S POTENTIAL CHALLENGE TO IRAN
Iran’s strategic interest in Iraq need not necessarily be more successful in controlling Iraq’s government under a Shi’i government than it had been under the four centuries of Sunni Ottoman sultans or the Sunni governments since the end of the First World War. Loyalty to Iran by Arab Shi’a should not be exaggerated. Arab Shi’a are more likely to favor Iraq. There are the deeply rooted differences in language, ethnicity, and culture between Iran and Arab societies. The spiritual heart and soul of the Shi’a is in Iraq, not Iran: The twelve imams are all Arab, and seven of Shi’ism’s holiest mosques are in central Iraq (four in Medina and only one in Iran). Moreover, Iraq is rich. As of January 2013, it had 141 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, 85 billion of which are located in the Shi’i south.
Badr al-Din al-Huthi, the 83-year-old Yemeni Zaydi leader, reportedly sent in May 2005 an appeal to Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and to the Muslim Council of Najaf asking them to intervene and support the Zaydi sect, which he claimed was the victim of “genocide.” He also sought the intervention of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Significantly, he did not seek help from Iran’s ayatollahs.
A future government in Baghdad might reverse Nouri al-Maliki’s obsequiousness toward Iran. In the 2010 Iraqi parliamentary elections, Maliki almost lost the premiership to Iyad Allawi, the secular Shi’i former prime minister (2004-2005). Allawi won two seats more than Maliki, and Maliki spent eight months cobbling together a ruling coalition.
THE MARCH OF SHI’ISM
Iraq connected the Shi’i Crescent from Iran to Hizballah. The Shi’i Crescent poses a great threat to the GCC states. Aside from its nuclear ambitions, Iran emboldens the Shi’a in the Arabian Peninsula to demand justice, if not representative democracies, let alone constitutional monarchies, self-rule, or independence. In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, turned the country into an Iranian vassal state. He is the leader of the Islamic Da’wa Party (Proselytizing Party). Established in 1958 by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Da’wa was the first Shi’i party in Iraq. Da’wa envisioned a generation of revolutionaries who would one day seize power to establish a Shi’i theocratic state. The Khomeini regime supported Da’wa. Maliki spent two decades in exile during Saddam’s regime, at first in Iran, then mainly in Syria. Riyadh believes Maliki is an Iranian agent. The Saudi king even refused to receive him in May 2007. Da’wa activists are thought to have helped build Lebanon’s Hizballah in the early 1980s. Iyad Allawi told the Washington Times on March 22, 2012, that Iran was “swallowing” Iraq and that some U.S. officials “concede secretly” that “Iran won, got the best advantage of what happened in Iraq.”
Another member of the Shi’i Crescent is the sectarian, dysfunctional Lebanon, where Hasan Nasrallah rules with the gun. Nasrallah turned Lebanon into an Iranian vassal state. A strong religious bond between Iran and the Shi’a of Lebanon was established five centuries ago. In 1502, Shah Isma’il found it profitable to introduce religious zeal into the conflicts Persia had with Sunni Ottoman sultans (1280-1918). In an act of mass conversion, the Shah made Shi’ism the religion of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1737). Lacking the clerics to teach the Shi’i ways, scholars from Lebanon were invited to establish schools and train Persian clerics. Thus, a bridge between Iran and Lebanon was established through marriage and religious affinity.
As for the Alawi member of the Shi’i Crescent, the Asads turned Syria into the third Iranian vassal state. While Iraq and Hizballah are of strategic importance to Iran, Syria’s relevance is as the mule that delivers Iranian weapons to Hizballah. Iran pays heavily for this service: First, the Asad regime is an economic and military burden on Tehran. Second, the Alawites are a minority of 12 percent with dubious religious connection to Shi’ism. Third, Syria has little religious significance to Shi’a, save for the alleged burial place of Zaynab, sister of Husayn, near Damascus (Zaynab’s tomb might be in the mosque that bears her name in Cairo).
SAUDI DETERMINATION TO DERAIL THE MARCH OF SHI’ISM
Riyadh has vigorously opposed Khomeini’s revolution from its inception. In May 1981, the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) was created in order to contain Iran. The Saudis also helped finance Saddam’s war against Iran (1980-1988) with $25.7 billion. Riyadh has also been lobbying Washington to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites. As the EU imposed oil sanctions on Iran in January 2012, Saudi Arabia quickly responded by increasing its oil production.
In 2011, the Saudis sent 1,000 soldiers to Bahrain as a part of a GCC deployment to help the al-Khalifa clan crush Shi’i demonstrations. Yemen’s Huthi uprising poses a threat to Riyadh, with Zaydi “heresies” and by providing arms to the Isma’ilis in nearby Abha, Jazan, and Najran. Until 1934, the area was Yemeni territory. On November 5, 2009, the Saudi air force bombed Huthi strongholds.
In Lebanon, fearing the rise of Shi’i power under Musa al-Sadr, Riyadh invested in Rafiq al-Hariri. He moved to Saudi Arabia in 1965, swiftly rising from rags to riches. After his assassination on February 14, 2005, his family reportedly inherited $16.7 billion. Hariri crafted the 1989 Ta’if Accord, which ended Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and made him prime minister (1992-1998 and 2000-2004). With his assassination, Riyadh lost most of its investment in Lebanon.
In Iraq, with help from its lobbyists, the Saudis managed to keep Saddam Hussein in power for 24 years. In 1991, following the expulsion of Saddam from Kuwait, the U.S. army did not go to Baghdad. However, during the weeks leading up to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the al-Sauds could not save Saddam. They were more concerned with saving themselves by staying away America’s crosshairs in the aftermath of September 11 than with whether Baghdad would be Shi’i or Sunni-ruled.
A decade later, the al-Sauds managed to deflect Wahhabi culpability for September 11. With its renewed self-assurance, Riyadh rejected in October 2013 membership in the United Nations Security Council in protest at the Council’s failure to end the war in Syria and other regional issues. With a $657 billion reserve fund (December 31, 2012), Riyadh has been leading the Sunni crusade against the Shi’i Crescent. In Syria, the Saudis have been supporting the war against the Alawi regime. A new regime in Syria is the key to breaking up the Shi’i Crescent, emasculating Hizballah, removing the ayatollahs from the Levant, and containing Iran.
A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
Wahhabism rendered the Sykes-Picot configuration unworkable. It replaced what was in the 1920s a relatively peaceful existence among ethnic and sectarian groups with hatred and bloodshed. Western inaction in Syria since the start of the March 2011 revolution allowed Bashar al-Asad to transform a peaceful uprising against tyranny into a regional existential conflagration between Shi’a and Sunnis.
Western inaction in Syria might suggest a shift in U.S. strategy from protecting the al-Sauds and GCC shaykhs to engagement with Tehran. This shift could lead to a separate Alawi state along the Mediterranean coast linked to a Shi’i-dominated Lebanon, which combined with Shi’i-dominated Southern Iraq would confirm Iran as the region’s superpower. Wahhabis and GCC money would then continue to pay Islamists to undermine Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, and the Arab inhabited oil-producing Khuzestan province in Southern Iran. The Huthi rebellion in Yemen would intensify and Bahraini Shi’i protests would become lethal, spilling over to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
This war will last for decades. Regardless of who eventually prevails, and despite the fact that the war is ridding the world of Islamist terrorists of the nastiest kind, hoards of hardened terrorists will metastasize to fight another day.
* Elie Elhadj, born in Syria, is a veteran international banker. He was Chief Executive Officer of the Arab National Bank in Saudi Arabia during most of the 1990s. After retiring, he received his Ph.D. from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
 Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs, 10th edition (London: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1970), p. 180.
 Mid-2009 Shi’i population estimate: Iran: about 68 million; Arab countries: roughly 38 million (Iraq: 20.5 million; Lebanon: 1.5 million; Syria: 3.5 million; Bahrain: 0.45 million; Kuwait: 0.6 million; Saudi Arabia: 3 million; Yemen: 9 million). 68 million + 38 million = 116 million out of 180 million of the world’s Shi’a population = 60 percent. See: The Pew Forum, Mapping the Global Muslim Population hangers-on, October 7, 2009,
 The chief of staff to Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad proposed building a major thoroughfare to prepare for the arrival of the Twelfth Imam, “Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Iran’s Next President?” PBS, March 31, 2011,
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, pp. 396-97.
 Al-Bukhari (d. 870): 7,397 traditions; Muslim (d. 875): 7,563 traditions; Bin Majah (d. 886): 4,341 traditions; Abu Dawud (d. 888): 5,274 traditions; Al-Tirmithi (d. 892): 3,956 traditions; and Al-Nasai (d. 915): 5,761 traditions. It takes a great act of faith to believe that every tradition was authentic. In addition to the great Arab conquests during the 13 generations between Muhammad’s death and the collection of the Hadith, there were four major Muslim civil wars, seven state capital cities, and numerous violent political and religious rebellions.
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 395.
 The roots of wilayat al-faqih can be found in the work of the Najaf Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. In his 1975 book, Islamic Political System, al-Sadr formulated his political ideology in four principles: Absolute sovereignty belongs to Allah; Shari’a is the basis of all legislation; the jurist holding the highest religious authority in the state is the representative of the Hidden Imam; the people, as vice-regents of Allah, are entrusted with executive and legislative powers. To give executive and legislative actions legality, the jurist must confirm these actions. As such, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr constructed the wilayat al-faqih concept as the basis for Shi’i governance. In 1979, the Khomeini revolution in Iran was born.
 Albert Hourani wrote of Badr al-Din bin Jama’a (1241-1333), “an official apologist of the Mamlukes.” He advocated that the ruler is “the shadow of God on the Earth…. The community must accept him whoever he be…. The imam can either be chosen or can impose himself by his own power, and, in either case, he must be obeyed. If he is deposed by another, the other must equally be obeyed… We are with whoever conquers.” On Taki al-Din bin Taymiyya (1263-1328), Hourani wrote, “an official of the Mamluke sultans.” He believed that the essence of government “was the power of coercion…. The ruler…. could demand obedience from his subjects, for even an unjust ruler was better than strife and dissolution of society.” See Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1789-1939 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 14, 18-19. These men were the product of not only the era of the Mamluk soldiers but also of the traumatic era of Mongol’s destruction of Baghdad and the caliphate (1258) and the rise of Ottoman rule (1280-1918).
 Among other examples, a man can marry four wives simultaneously and divorce any of them without giving cause, misyar marriages are permitted, and two women equal one man in legal testimony and inheritance. In addition, every woman must have a guardian (father, husband, brother, or son) responsible for her actions. She cannot travel without his written permission, stay in a hotel alone, engage in business, or be treated in a hospital. Women are prohibited from driving cars, for fear of damaging their ovaries, warned a leading Wahhabi cleric. See: “Saudi Cleric Says Driving Risks Damaging a Woman’s Ovaries,” BBC News, September 29, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24323934. Women must be segregated from men outside the home and covered in public from head to toe in a black garment. A brutal religious police enforces these rules. Further, there is the Saudi common saying that women are light on brains and religious belief. Muhammad reportedly said that most of those in hell were women (according al-Bukhari, Muslim and al-Tirmithi) and that women’s “lack of intelligence” is the reason a woman’s testimony in an Islamic court of law is equal to half that of the testimony of the Muslim male (al-Bukhari; al-Tirmithi). Moreover, the alleged reason women are prohibited from praying and fasting during menstruation is due to their being “deficient in religious belief” (al-Bukhari; al-Tirmithi).
 Intolerance toward Christians and Jews is found in the following verses, among others: 2:65, 2:120, 5:51, 5:60, 5:78 and the first part of 5:82. Violence against non-Muslims appear in, for example, verses 2:191, 2:193, 2:116, 8:60, 9:5, and 9:29.
 Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 191.
 Elie Elhadj, “The Arab Spring and the Prospects for Genuine Religious and Political Reforms,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), Vol. 16, No. 3 (Fall 2012),
 Saudi Arabian Central Bureau of Statistics and Information, http://www.cdsi.gov.sa/english/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=31&Itemid=1 13. 11.458 million out of 16,527 million = 69.3 percent, Table no. 2, p. 47.
 Ibid; 9.235 million out of 16.527 million = 56 percent.
 Assuming 10 million expatriates from 1993 to 2013 and 5 million during each of the preceding 20 years since 1973 = 300 million. Assuming that the average worker stays for three years, the average number of expatriates would be around 100 million. If 1 percent was radicalized, the number of Islamists would be one million.
 Prior to its banning by the United Nations Security Council Committee on January 26, 2004, (see http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQE10304E.shtml), the al-Haramain Foundation claimed to have built 1,300 mosques in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, sponsored 3,000 preachers, and produced 20 million religious pamphlets from the time of its formation in the early 1990s until its closure. See “Saudis to Sue Senior US Officials,” al-Jazeera, May 15, 2005, http://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2005/05/200849145739118333.html.
 Declan Walsh, “WikiLeaks Cables Portray Saudi Arabia As a Cash Machine for Terrorists,” The Guardian, December 5, 2010,
 Syria’s Sunnis are aghast at the Asad regime’s open blasphemy. Following the death of Hafiz al-Asad’s son Basil in a racing car accident in 1994, government employees and school children in the coastal city of Latakia were ordered by government officials to dress in black and demonstrate, chanting, “Oh God, oh God, it is about time You step aside and let Basil sit in your place” (“Ya Allah hallak hallak wa Basil ya’akhaz mahallak”). When Hafiz died in 2000, the same performance was repeated for three months, replacing the name Basil with Hafiz, and this time with visits to Hafiz’s mausoleum in Qardaha, the Asad clan’s hometown.
 Patrick Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 173.
 International Labor Organization, The Syrian Arab Republic Constitution of 2012, Arabic
 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity, August 9, 2012.
 BBC, Religions, Sunni and Shi’a, August 19, 2009, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/subdivisions/sunnishia_1.shtml.
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Bahrain,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012,
 “Bahrain Emerging As Flashpoint in Middle East Unrest,” Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 2011,
 Human Rights Watch, Bahrain: Police Brutality, Despite Reform Pledges, Minors Regularly Beaten; Impunity Remains Key Problem, April 29, 2012,
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Kuwait,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012,
 BBC, Kuwait election: Shia Candidates Suffer at Polls, July 28, 2013,
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices–2003, Kuwait, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27931.htm.
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Kuwait,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.
 According to the 2004 census, Saudi nationals in the Eastern Province numbered 2.6 million (Table 1, p. 46) and the rate of Saudi nationals’ growth was 2.5 percent (p. 23). The Province’s population ten years later, in 2014, could be estimated at 3.9 million. See Saudi Arabian Central Bureau of Statistics and Information, http://www.cdsi.gov.sa/english/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=31&Itemid=113.
 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The World Factbook,
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Saudi Arabia,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012,
 Joshua Teitelbaum, “The Shiites of Saudi Arabia,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Vol. 16, August 21, 2010, http://www.currenttrends.org/research/detail/the-shiites-of-saudi-arabia.
 Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia p. 89.
 Ibid., pp. 146-47.
 According to the 2004 census, Saudi nationals in the Najran Province made up 349,000 (Table 1, p. 46), and the rate of population growth was 2.5 percent (p. 23). The population in Najran ten years later, in 2014, could thus be estimated at roughly 500,000. Since it is well known that the majority of Najran’s population is Isma’ili, assuming a 75 percent majority, the estimated size of Najran’s Isma’ilis would be around 375,000. Further, there are Isma’ilis in the nearby Jazan Province. Jazan’s Saudi population was estimated in 2004 at 994,000 (Table 1, p. 46) with a growth rate of 2.5 percent (p. 23). It could thus be estimated that the Jazan population ten years later, in 2014, at around 1.5 million. At an Isma’ili proportion of 20 percent, the Isma’ilis in Jazan could be around 300,000. Thus, in Najran and Jazan, the Isma’ilis could number around 675,000.See Saudi Arabian Central Bureau of Statistics and Information, http://www.cdsi.gov.sa/english/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=31&Itemid=113.
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Yemen,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012,
 Fethullah Guler, Zaydiyya and Its Conflict with the Salafiyya in Yemen, January 1, 2013,
 “A Lasting Peace? Yemen’s Long Journey to National Reconciliation,” The Brookings Doha Center Analysis Papers, No. 7, (February 2013),
 “Houthi Group Appoints Arms Dealer as Governor of Sa’ada Province,” March 27, 2011, Yemen Post, http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=3336.
 Momen, Introduction to Shi’i Islam, p. 93.
 Ibid., pp. 91-92.
 “Hezbollah to End Beirut Seizure,” BBC, May 10, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7393982.stm.
 “Short History of Nuclear Talks with Iran,” American Foreign Policy Project, November 9, 2009,
 CIA, “Iran,” The World Factbook,
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Iran,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012,
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Iraq,” International Religious Freedom Report for 2012
 For the full text of the constitution:
 CIA, The World Factbook,
 Aside from the Asad family, among the top families that moved from rags to riches are: Duba, Khuli, Makhluf, Mamluk, Nasif, Shalish, and Akhras, Khaddam, Shihabi, Tlas.
 Eighty percent of Alawites who represent about 12 percent of Syria’s population = 9.6 percent, or 10 percent + two-thirds of Christians who represent some 6 percent of the population = 4 percent + 10 percent of Sunnis, who represent 75 percent of the population, = 7.5 percent, or 8 percent. The total would be 10 percent + 4 percent + 8 percent = 22 percent.
 “Syria Accused of Torture and 11,000 Executions,” BBC, January 21, 2014,
 Some of the most prominent Shi’i ulama families in Najaf (such as Sahibuljawahir, Ashshaykh Radi, Bahrululum, al-Jawahiri, and Tabatabai al-Hakim) and Karbala (such as al-Hujja al-Haeri, Tabatabai al-Haeri, Tabatabai Burujurdi, and Shahrastan) trace their genealogical roots to long lines of intermarriages with illustrious Iranian families in Burjurid, Isfahan, Kirmanshah, and Tehran. For a lineage tree showing intermarriages among Shi’i ulama families in Iran and Iraq from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, see Momen, An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, pp. 132-34.
 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 294.
 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Iran, March 28, 2013,
 “Yemeni Religious Scholars Reject Repression Charges of Zayidis,” Gulf News, May 8, 2005,
 “Analysis: Defining Iraqracy,” Globalpost, March 29, 2010,
 Juan Cole, “Saving Iraq: Mission Impossible,” Salon, May 11, 2006, http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/05/11/maliki/index_np.html.
 Helene Cooper, “Saudis’ Role in Iraq Frustrates U.S. Officials,” New York Times, July 27, 2007,
 Robin Wright, “Saudi King Declines to Receive Iraqi Leader,” Washington Post, April 29, 2007,
 Ben Birnbaum, “Allawi Cites ‘Dictatorship,’ Iranian Control in Iraq,” Washington Times, March 22, 2012,
 According to King Fahd, al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia, p. 157.
 “Gulf States Send Forces to Bahrain Following Protests,” BBC, March 14, 2011,
 “Saudi Jets Bomb Yemeni Houthis,” al-Jazeera, November 5, 2009,
 “Rafik al-Hariri,” Lebanon-Today.com,
 “Saudis Reject Security Council Seat, Angry over Mideast Inaction,” Reuters, October 18, 2013,
 CIA, “Saudi Arabia,” The World Factbook,