‘Sectarian’ clashes in the second-most holiest site in Islam can only serve to achieve one forbidding outcome. The sight of bloodshed and hostilities in the near vicinities of this sacred site is tantamount to sacrilege in the hearts and minds of Muslims all across the globe. News of four deaths and several more critically injured in the aftermath of the recent clashes in Medina will have no doubt turned memories back to the 1987 massacre in the holy city of Makka during the annual Hajj. Despite the seemingly subsiding intensity of these clashes however, it is paramount to underline the lingering nature of its outcomes — just as was the case following the massacre — which will remain to influence and shape policies vis-à-vis segments of Saudi society, and wider regional relations.
In order to come to terms with the motives for the recent clashes in Medina, it is crucial to highlight the ongoing geopolitical shifts in the wider region. The Middle East today stands at a unique crossroads; its peoples are witnessing the displacement of age-old power structures that have been the symbol of this region for decades. Naturally, the ‘old-guard’ is pitted against the forces of change, with dear life stuck between their teeth. As loyal and attentive students of history will no doubt attest to, power holds an incredible capacity to corrupt. An even more real but no less frightening concomitant of power lies in its longing for eternalness.
The distressing events in Medina over the last few days are not sectarian clashes, yet the principle motive of its agitators is to utilize these events to heighten regional sectarian tensions. Faced with a climate of growing Islamic solidarity and imperialist rejection, these provocateurs are placing their last hopes in heightened sectarianism to secure their loosening-grip on power. The process of awakening amongst the Arab masses throughout the Middle East is alarming the oil-sheikhdoms, and at their helm the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh and Cairo once stood tall as the nerve centres of the Middle East from where regional agendas, carefully calibrated in line with US imperialist interests, were set. Times have changed. Today, the simmering revolution in Egypt is being restrained thanks only to the firing guns of an ailing Mubarak. Saudi Arabia, which proudly lauded itself as the counter-balance to Iran can no longer maintain a steady footing and finds itself replaced by a far more pragmatic and conciliatory, Qatar. Arguably, the final nails in the coffins of these historical ‘powerhouses’ have also been hammered down by the growing role that is being played out by a Turkey that is increasingly turning eastward.
The House of Saud today faces a distinctive predicament. Over recent decades, the Saudi kingdom has single-handedly pumped millions upon millions of US dollars to fund the Wahhabi sect of Islam around the world. The Saudi monarchy, which came into power on the crest of Wahhabi fanaticism, resolved to export Wahhabi ideology from 1979 with the particular aim of countering the Shia, following the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Today, the godfathers of the Wahhabi and Salafist groups are haunted by the products of their very own making. Faced on the one hand with the return of their now matured brood and on the other by a resolutely passionate political agenda on the Arab street strongly against US imperialism in the region, the Saudi monarchy has chosen to kill both birds with the fire of sectarianism.
The impression of a wounded fox with no other weapon in hand except for its most primordial ability to fan the fires of sectarianism is thus the proper context against which these coordinated attacks by the Saudi army aided by the fanatical ‘moral police’ (the Mutawwa’ah) ought to be seen. From Nigeria to Pakistan, Saudi policy is operating with the single goal of obfuscating the ‘awakening’ of the Arab and Muslim populous through providing regional developments with sectarian overtones. Invented terminologies like the ‘Shia tide’ and the ‘Shia crescent’ are used in line with this agenda: an agenda to polarize the unifying Muslim ranks that stand against US imperialism in the Middle East into ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ bastions.
Muslims around the world, especially those who are situated in the Middle East, should be cognizant of these underlying currents. They should not allow themselves to be utilized as instruments through which the waning power of client-states in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world is consolidated. In this regard, the primary onus falls upon Muslim leaders to refrain from pitching these clashes as ‘sectarian wars’.