Sat, Dec 01, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Sunni Muslim alliance gains clout in Middle East power shift

The Arab Spring uprisings, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by Sunni Muslims

By Neil MacFarquhar  /  NY Times News Service, RAMALLAH, West Bank

Those countries will not supply arms, though, so Hamas will maintain contacts with Tehran.

Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, told CNN that the relationship is “not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing of relations.”

Where Hamas and Hezbollah were once allies, the fact that they are now at times at loggerheads illustrates the shift to the new Sunni axis.

A Western diplomat seeking to explain the changes recently drew a cross through the region, the meeting point representing Syria. Along the East-West line, he wrote “febrile crescent,” a play on the traditional “Fertile Crescent” used to describe the stretch of the Middle East where civilization began. The febrile crescent represents the volatile fault line between Sunnis and Shiites, with Syria the prize.

The other axis was labeled “Sunni Struggles,” representing the wrestling within the dominant Muslim sect over what governments and what ideology will emerge triumphant from the current political tumult.

The deepest change, of course, is that the era of dictators seems to be closing.

“These are populist governments, which are much more attuned to the domestic public opinion than were previous regimes,” said Rashid Khalidi, an Arab studies professor at Columbia University. “Before the Arab revolutions you had a frozen situation, where it was easy to see how things would go.”

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