A number of friends and I were following the negotiations in Qatar to reach a settlement in Lebanon. In the company of the same friends, I followed before the tragic events in Beirut. During these successive sessions of TV news bulletin, I noticed abnormal sectarian schism scenarios raising their ugly heads in more than one part of the Arab world. I say schism scenarios hoping or believing that they will not turn into realities on the ground and that they are no more than negative symptoms that will evaporate with time.
Yes, these scenarios are being actively marketed under many banners using huge efforts of mobilisation, lining up and evocation. But, I have a deep sense of confidence that these efforts will in the end give up in the of strong realities on the ground. We have been witnessing similar efforts here and there in the Arab World for a good deal of time so far. Well, it might take time, but I’m sure they will retreat and leave the scene for a new coming daybreak.
Back to those TV news evenings with friends, following political developments in Lebanon. I was really shocked. I do not mean by the hateful fighting. In fact, this was a small thing when compared to the hatred expressed by many Lebanese speakers in talk shows at the time. Sectarian lines and fears were flagrant among people. Their statements and facial expressions pushed me to remember friends and neighbours from a few years ago who I lived with without even knowing their religions. This was not only because of my belonging to a pan-Arab ideology that did not deal with people according to their religion or sectarian backgrounds despite my strong belonging to Islam as a religion, but also because this was the situation of Lebanon in the past.
We, the people of the UAE, belong to Islam and we are very proud of our creed. I have never sensed any schism among us. Living on this land as one family, UAE people feel baffled when faced with newly born words such as ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shiite’. The word ‘Shiite’ has never been used here before. Instead, we used to call people of this Islamic creed ‘Bahrani’. During my early years, me and other people of my generation thought of Bahranis as something no more than belonging to a certain region or community. During these TV news evenings, a certain question started to occur to me. Why sectarian attacks have been present in such a strong manner in many parts of the Arab World recently?
Is there any logic behind this? Is it because centrifugal forces are growing stronger than centripetal forces among us? Or, are there powers that want to destabilize the Arab World using sectarian evocations to start deep schisms all over our region? I will be direct and clear. There is no need for word playing. Out of belonging to the Arab Gulf and my Islamic belief, I absolutely refuse all of what is going now, even when the conflict does not go beyond the verbal debate and evocative statements about Sunnis and Shiites. Our self awareness here in the Gulf has been built on being Muslim, and Muslims only without being any thing else.
This has been the case for us in the UAE and in the Gulf in general. Building on this belief, we had good relations and trade with our neighbours in Iran, despite the tensions resulting from Iran’s occupation of the three UAE islands during the reign of Shah Mohammad Rida Bahlawi. When the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, we looked to this as good news and hoped that a new era of mutual respect and friendship with our neighbours would start. This sense was reinforced among us by the new Iranian rulers’ positive statements about relationships with Arab people and their commitment towards a fair settlement of the Palestinian issue which represents a lifelong duty for every Arab man and woman. But, despite the welcoming positions expressed by Gulf states and other Arab countries towards the Iranian people and their new leadership, we found ourselves in time in the following situations:
• Iran continued its occupation of the UAE’s three islands and its efforts to manipulate history by replacing Arab from the name of our Gulf with another name.
• The security and stability of the Gulf have been repeatedly victims of irresponsible adventures.
• The Sunni-Shiite sectarian fight has engulfed Iraq.
• A civil war almost happened between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon.
• A deep schism divides pro-Iran Palestinians and their compatriots who are allies to other powers.
With the exception of their occupation of our three islands, I do not mean that our Iranian neighbours are responsible for all of these developments. However, I strongly believe that they must use their political and economic influences to bridge the gap among Muslims and to support rapprochement with their Arab neighbours. Speaking on behalf of any Arab in the Gulf, I am sure that the Gulf states want to establish very strong friendships not only with the Iranians, but with all the people of the world
Yes, every human being, as well as every society, has the right to choose whatever type of government they want, but they are not entitled to impose their choice upon other neighbouring people and countries, or to recall historic evocative ideas to spread divisions. Countries and regimes must search for factors that support rapprochements and friendships, not hateful old rivalries and historic divisions, as a way to strengthen their clout in other countries.
I wish that our Iranian neighbours will be hospitable to my good faith comments. I raise the matter to highlight the importance of building a better relationship between the two sides of the Gulf, based on respect and friendship. To show my goodwill and eagerness for a new and better chapter in the history of the Gulf, I will assume that all these sectarian divisions have been the result of bad historic coincidences, hoping that fresh winds will bring change and unity.