Some prominent Muslim Brotherhood and related Sunni Islamists have been struggling publicly with the rising Sunni-Shia conflict recently. At last week's Doha conference on Sunni-Shia relations, Yusuf al-Qaradawi caused a major stir with a forceful intervention demanding that the Shia stop their proselytizing in Sunni-majority countries and that Iran stop contributing to sectarian killing in Iraq. This was distressing for several reasons. It isn't just that he's extremely influential with mainstream Islamist-minded audiences. It's that Qaradawi has always had exceptionally well-tuned political antennae - he's a political populist with a great ear for what is going to play well with his audiences. That makes him a good barometer for trends in certain important sectors of Arab public opinion - when he decides to jump on an anti-Shia bandwagon, it probably means that he senses that this is going to be a popular position. Qaradawi has long advocated good Sunni-Shia relations, and has been scathingly critical of efforts to promote anti-Shia attitudes (one of his ongoing arguments with the salafi trend) - which made his public lashing out against the Shia much more unsettling than similar outbursts from traditionally anti-Shia voices.
In this context, I wanted to draw attention to a very important intervention today by the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide Mohamed Mehdi Akef, who released a letter calling for Sunni-Shia unity in the face of common enemies. The letter, entitled "The Sunna and the Shia between brotherhood in Islam and the schemes of its enemies", says that Islam considers the Sunni and Shia to be united by one doctrine and one faith, and that the Brotherhood rejects any effort to divide them or set them against each other. Sunni and Shia live together peacefully, intermarry, and co-exist. He blamed the enemies of Islam and the activities of "foreign occupiers" for the divisions which have recently appeared and the spirit of hatred which has recently spread. He called on all Sunni Muslim leaders and Shia Muslim leaders to understand who is spreading sectarian extremism and to work against it, and called on all Sunni leaders to condemn the aggression of takfiris against the Shia.
It will be interesting to see if Akef's strong statement against Sunni-Shia sectarian strife has any impact on the rapidly evolving popular tension. I've heard from a few sources that today's mosque khutba (by government-approved imams) were just as aggressively anti-Shia as they were the last couple of weeks. Fahmy Howeydi recently wrote, in an important article, that the Egyptian government's intense campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and the anti-Shia campaign were part and parcel of a common agenda - an analysis which points directly towards what it appears Akef is trying to do: dampen down Sunni-Shia tensions by redirecting anger towards the more typical enemies such as the United States, Israel, and the Arab regimes.