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Egypt concerned about Sunni "cleansing" in Iraq

CAIRO: Despite official statements to the contrary, Egypt is especially concerned about the state of Sunnis in Iraq and fears the hegemony of the Shiite majority over the war-torn country according to experts. Last week’s decision by the Shiite-controlled Iraqi Interior Ministry to arrest Sheikh Harith Al-Dhari, secretary general of the Association of Muslim Scholars …


CAIRO: Despite official statements to the contrary, Egypt is especially concerned about the state of Sunnis in Iraq and fears the hegemony of the Shiite majority over the war-torn country according to experts.

Last week’s decision by the Shiite-controlled Iraqi Interior Ministry to arrest Sheikh Harith Al-Dhari, secretary general of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), the highest Sunni authority in the country, aroused further concerns on the issue.

Al-Dhari is currently in Cairo.

“Egypt is not comfortable with the Shiite hegemony over Iraq, nor the sectarian division of power, Dr Waheed Abdel-Meguid, head of Arab research at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told The Daily Star Egypt .

He does not believe the Shiite community in Iraq is in the majority saying it has never been confirmed, and that a census is difficult to take in the current climate. “Besides, he added, “what constitutes the majority or minority should be decided along political lines and not sectarian ones.

Abdel-Meguid also said that Al-Dhari would not be handed over to Iraqi authorities.

“That is inconceivable, he said.

The Egyptian policy towards Iraq lacks initiative according to Abdel-Meguid. “It’s a non-initiative policy, which contains sympathy for the Sunnis and some trepidation towards the Shiites and Iran, he said.

Abdel-Meguid added, “Egyptians are worried about the Sunnis but do not have a clear vision of what to do.

Egypt has nevertheless always maintained a strong relationship with the Sunnis in Iraq.

It was that relationship which cost Egyptian Ambassador to Iraq Ihab Al-Sharif his life in July 2005; he was kidnapped by Shiite militants while on his way to a meeting with members of the AMS . He was killed five days later.

Egypt will attempt, however, to mediate to reach a solution with the Iraqi government over the Al-Dhari issue, according to sources.

Editor in chief of Al-Osboa newspaper Mustapha Bakry wrote in the Monday issue of the newspaper, “Malki and Talibany and all sectarians are fanning the flames of war on the Arab Sunnis, and added that this war is “in the shadows of the occupiers’ protection.

Bakry told The Daily Star Egypt that Al-Dhari s arrest order was nothing more than a settling of scores from the Shiite-run Iraqi government, and that the sheikh had committed no crime.

“It’s a sectarian conflict with the aim of ethnically cleansing the Sunnis. This is a movement in coordination with the Iranians and Americans because the Sunnis are the only ones resisting the occupation. Sunnis are kidnapped in Shiite areas by the Interior Ministry and armed militias and tortured and killed, Bakry asserted.

As for Al-Dhari, Bakry said: He is in Egypt now and we will not hand him back, he can stay here or in any other Arab capital. He said he will return to Iraq when the time is right.

Bakry expanded this to include all Iraqi Sunnis. “Egypt will not hand back Sunnis, especially when a crime has not been committed. We have a history of receiving exiles such as the shah of Iran. This is Egyptian policy.

President Hosni Mubarak had stated in the past that the Iraqi Shiites’ allegiance was to Iran, rather than to their own country.

An Egyptian official denied that there distinctions were made between Sunni and Shiite in Egyptian policy. “Our doors are open to all; we do not differentiate between Sunni and Shiite. Our policy is everyone is welcome, he told The Daily Star Egypt .

He added that each case of someone coming into Egypt is decided on its own merits. “We have an open door policy; it is applicable to Iraqis like any other nationality. We don’t close doors, Egypt is an open country. Applicants are required to go through a process, which includes a general security check and possession of a certain amount of money if they desire a residency permit.

Although at the onset of the war in 2003 only 800 Iraqis had fled to Egypt, there are now 100,000, the large majority of them coming in 2006.

Advisor Alaa Roushdy, spokesman for the Arab League, also refuted the possibility of distinctions being made by the league. “We have serious concerns for everybody in Iraq, not just the Sunnis, he told The Daily Star Egypt.

Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa stated in a press conference that the league was in contact with Iraqi officials over the Al-Dary case and that he had discussed the matter with both President Galal Talibany and the office of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malki who was in Turkey at the time.

Moussa called for a solution in Iraq that would suit all sides, as well as calling for an end to the sectarian violence that could spell “the death of Iraq.

He added, “We want to serve a united Iraq that keeps its unity, sovereignty and independence and we do not differentiate between this sect or that one or geographical location or anything else for they are all Iraqis.

However, he stressed the importance of getting Iraqi factions trying to resolve the current sectarian crises tearing Iraq apart.

He cited the recent meeting of Iraqi religious leaders in Mecca as an example.

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