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Shiites, Sunnis divided over cause of divisions
some blame Syria for crisis; others finger US
by Abdo Saad
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

 
BEIRUT : Shiites and Sunnis see separate causes behind the seeming increase in sectarian tensions in Lebanon, according to a survey conducted by the Beirut Center for Research and Information (BCRI) which was released last week. The survey found that Sunnis ascribe heightened tensions to two main causes: Hizbullah's alliance with Syria, and the conflict over an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and other crimes.

Shiites in Lebanon gave different reasons for the split, the survey found. Almost 60 percent of Shiite respondents said the alliance of the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora with the United States and France was the main source of sectarian tension in Lebanon.

The BCRI survey showed that 97 percent of Shiites polled were not in favor of the disarmament of Hizbullah in exchange for more political privileges for Shiites.

"Despite the current animosity between Arab countries and Iran," the survey found, a majority of Lebanese Sunni respondents did not perceive the growing influence of Iran as a threat, but rather considered the United States and Israel as "enemies to Arabs."

Around 52 percent of Sunnis endorsed Iran's nuclear program, while 63 percent of them saw the US as the major cause of trouble in Iraq. Just over 20 percent saw Iran as the main source.

A sample of 500 respondents participated in the survey, 250 Sunnis and 250 Shiites. The survey was conducting from March 25-28. An equal number of respondents of different age groups and from both sexes were polled.

Some poll respondents said Sunni-Shiite tensions in Lebanon were of "domestic nature, and did not have a regional scope to them." The conflict was "political rather than religious" and was "only recent," the poll found. Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon had always shared, in the past, "the same stances with regard to the situation in Lebanon and in the region," according to a summary of results.

While 35 percent of Sunni respondents tied Sunni-Shiite tensions to Hizbullah's alliance with Syria, 32 percent said the cause of the bickering was tied to the international tribunal.

Twenty percent of Shiite respondents said that Siniora's plotting against the resistance during the summer 2006 war was at the heart of the conflict.  

The survey probed whether the Sunnis were afraid of what has been called the Shiite Crescent, and whether Lebanese Shiites consider themselves to be part of the formation.

The term " Shiite Crescent" describes a region of connected areas stretching from Iran to Lebanon where the majority of the population is Shiite or where there is a strong Shiite minority in the population. Some Arab leaders, most prominently King Abdullah II of Jordan, have expressed concern about the rise of Shiite influence in the Arab region. Respondents in last week's poll did not express disproportionate concern or identification with such a confederation.

A majority of Lebanese Shiites who responded to the poll did not endorse the stances taken by Shiites in Iraq.

Around 75 percent of Shiite respondents said that the Shiite-led Iraqi government was not sovereign. A smaller majority, 62 percent, described themselves as opposed the Iraqi government's alliance with the US.

The survey also clearly showed that Shiites were not seeking to replicate the Shiite model in Iraq, and were against the general policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

 
Abdo Saad is head of the Beirut Center for Research and Information.

 

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