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January 18, 2007



I was in Cairo during the summer of 2005 at the height of the Egyptian election section. Regarding anti-Shia sentiment, I found a substantial reservoir existed at that time, which tended to come to the surface pretty quickly when the subject of Iraq came up. I spoke to a number of people who, frustrated and somewhat perplexed by the US' actions in Iraq, had decided that the US had developed a pro-Shia, anti-Sunni bias. While this idea is obviously pretty strange as political analysis, it tends to lead me to believe that the current sentiment comes substnatial from the public themselves. If the government has exerted efforts to stoke such conflicts, it probably didn't have to try very hard. But then again, I only spent a couple of months in Cairo. I'd be interested to hear what someone with more experience thought about this matter.


Does anyone know how much anti-Shia sentiment existed in Egypt before the Iraq War?


I am happy to see this lengthy account. The anti-Shia movement, noted in today's CSM in Saudi Arabia, is very discouraging. It may lay the cultural framework for a long conflict.



Blake Hounshell

Ironically, Egypt is deep down a Shiite country in many ways ... lots of traditions carried over from the Fatimids.


Second, everyone here seems keenly aware that the United States has backed off of democracy promotion.

Sixth, the niqab. As soon as I got here, I was pretty surprised to see so many women wearing niqab - the full face covering - rather than the normal hijab.

The one does a pretty good job of explaining the other, in my opinion. There are worse things than dictatorship.


About the anti-Shia thing, the Shia's 'flavour of the month' status for standing up to the Americans and Israelis in Lebanon hasn't disappeared altogether, you still see the Nasrallah poster from one of the newspapers last summer pasted up in various small shops, but someone told me the other day about a shopkeeper reporting that he had taken down his Nasrallah poster after Saddam's hanging.

I think most people would agree that pro- or anti-Shia sentiment has generally been more political than theological for Egyptians - lots of Brothers were inspired by the Iranian Revolution, Nasrallah became a huge hero last year, and even the latest anti-Shia upsurge seems to be more about what the Shia in Iraq are doing than deep-seated prejudice toward Shia in general (though the sense of otherness/bit of prejudice that does exist certainly helps). But I haven't been following the Shia-bashing in the press recently, so for all I know it's descended into theological bickering too.


Regarding the "Saddam wasn't killed book," one of my Egyptian coworkers at the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt had seen some tv coverage of the book, and as is her wont, mostly believed it. I bet five dollars this meme will be all over the middle east within a few months.

Helena Cobban

I agree with what Blake and SP said about pre-2003 anti-Shiism in Egypt. Viz., that the popular culture does still have a lot of Fatimid influence in it and that attitudes towards "the Shia" of most Sunni Egyptians (like those of many other Sunni Arabs) always seemed much more political than theological. I guess the exception to that, at the Arab level, would be the Wahhabis.

Anyway, I'll be in Cairo for most of February so I can probe this a bit more there, myself.

Huge thanks, Marc, for the update here!


If you want really, really good laugh about the corner the NDP has painted itself into with the proposed constitutional amendment regarding political parties based on religion, go read Sandmonkey:


This is the original story on al-Arabiya to which he links:

Absolutely hilarious.



Any general comments about the situation in Lebanon? From the Egyptian perspective that is. And how might the anti Shia dynamic impact the situation in Lebanon if the govt appears to be falling?


My impression so far is that the majority of Muslim Egyptians are terribly ignorant (as are most Sunnis) of Shia theology or ritual and unlike the average Lebanese or Iraqi have had precious little contact with ordinary Shia unless they've spent time in the Gulf. Ignorance of this kind is fertile ground for prograganda of any kind. Nasrallah's appeal runs deep, though, as he demonstrated a meaure of integrity and leadership that the Arab masses are simply not used to. Like Sadat before him, he exposed other Arab leaders, but in rather a different way. His silence on Iraq may be guided by considerations of realpolitik but it may eventually hurt him.

Nur al-Cubicle

Have you seen this, Fantastic Aardvark?



it seems most analysts are underestimating or totally missing the influence of the Salafi movement in today's sunni world (they're huge in Egypt).

the shia have been an obsession for the salafi's for ages, even before the recent war in Lebanon, most salafi sheikhs took an anti hezbolla stand they publicly say shia are more dangerous than the zionists or the americans.

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