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Op-Ed: Sectarian politics behind Saudi's 500 lashes for Australian

By Katerina Nikolas     Dec 7, 2011 in World
Medina - Saudi authorities failed to heed the Grand Mufti's warning that the Haj should not be used to promote sectarian hatred. The arrest of an Iranian born Shia Muslim from Australia, and sentence of 500 lashes, shows sectarian politics are at play.
The arrest of Australian Mansor Almaribe during the Haj pilgrimage in Medina, Saudi, highlights political and sectarian issues within the Kingdom. Almaribe, 45, has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a reduced prison term of one year for breaching Saudi Arabia's blasphemy laws. However, although Amaribe is Australian he was originally from Iran, and practices Shia, rather than Sunni Islam.
The IB Times reported that Sharmon Stone, MP for Victoria, said she suspected the arrest was motivated by sectarian tensions. "It's a lot to do with the different Islamic religions, Sunnis and Shiites and so on," she said.
In November Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh warned against this years Haj being used to promote sectarian hatred. According to Arabs Today the Grand Mufti said "The Muslim pilgrimage isn’t a time for 'raising slogans' and shouldn’t be 'exploited for purposes of political agendas," emphasizing instead that "The pilgrimage is a great occasion for unity and solidarity between Muslims.”
Tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi have escalated this year, following Iranian accusations that Saudi interference in Bahrain, by sending troops to prop up the Sunni Khalifa monarchy, was tantamount to an invasion. Tensions increased still further when accusations were made regarding Iranian involvement in an alleged plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the U.S.
In spite of the strained relations between Saudi and Iran, 94,000 visas were issued to Iranian pilgrims for Haj. Yet Saudi law "prohibits the public observance of other religions and limits the practice of other branches of Islam, including Shiism."
The arrest of Almaribe follows the October arrest of Canadian cleric Sheikh Usama al-Atar as he performed Haj at Medina. The Iraqi born Canadian citizen also followed a different branch of Islam to the Saudi one.
The Australian government is attempting to intercede on behalf of Almaribe. It is unlikely he will be receive the prescribed 500 lashes as it would be expedient for the Saudi authorities to demonstrate their willingness to concede to human rights calls emanating from Australia, in order to obtain a political advantage in the region.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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