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Iraq Shia cleric visit to Egypt draws ire of activists

Image of Ammar Al-Hakim delivering a speech on 21 October 2016 [Hamed Malekpour/Wikipedia]
Ammar Al-Hakim delivering a speech on 21 October 2016 [Hamed Malekpour/Wikipedia]

Egyptian and other Arab activists have launched a social media campaign to denounce a visit to the capital Cairo by the head of the Iraqi Shia National Alliance parliamentary bloc, claiming that he was unwelcome due to his links to Iran and his reportedly sectarian views deemed offensive to Sunnis.

Ammar Al-Hakim, a Shia cleric and scion of an influential religious family based in Iraq, is on a trip of the North African Arab states in order to rally support for his “national reconciliation plan” that he says will seek to establish a new status quo in Iraq that has been riven by sectarian and ethnic violence.

Al-Hakim met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi yesterday, and was reportedly set to meet other Egyptian officials to garner support for his political agenda though it was unclear with whom.

National reconciliation plan

The delegation led by Al-Hakim does not represent the Iraqi government formally, though it includes members of all the main Shia parties, including the Shia Islamist Dawa Party, an Iranian-backed political party that has produced most of Iraq’s prime ministers post-2003. However, the Shia Sadrist movement was not represented, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.

The Shia cleric has called for a reconciliation agreement with Iraq’s other disparate communities, but his proposals have been rejected by the Sunnis who have put forward their own plans.

According to the Sunni Arabs, Al-Hakim does not go far enough in his proposals as he has not suggested any substantive changes to the Iraqi legal system and judiciary that is often used to persecute the Sunni community, accusing them of terrorism or support for Ba’athist ideology, proscribed as a terrorist ideology in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Alaa Yousef, said that Al-Sisi supported Al-Hakim’s proposals and wanted to see the Iraqis come together.

Egypt is committed to standing by Iraq and supporting its unity and reaffirms its sovereignty over all its territories. [Egypt] also supports all efforts aimed at restoring security and stability in this brotherly Arab nation.

Egyptians say no

However, the Egyptian people have been far from welcoming to Al-Hakim, a controversial figure deemed to be under the influence of and close to regional Shia power Iran.

Activists started a “#No_to_Ammar_Al-Hakim_in_Egypt” hashtag on popular social media platform Twitter, and called for Al-Hakim to not be welcomed in Cairo due to accusations of his anti-Sunni sectarianism, saying that he was responsible for killing thousands of Sunni Iraqis.

A television show host and expert in Iranian affairs, Alaa El-Said, tweeted: “The Iranian wolf enters Egypt in the clothes of an Iraqi lamb…#Egypt_above_all.”

El-Said also tweeted, “The murderer came to Egypt as the sweetheart of the [Shia] seminary directly from Tehran. Shame on those who welcome an Iranian murderer onto Egyptian soil. The road to collapse starts in Iran.”

Iran has been greatly empowered since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, spreading its influence not only into its former adversary and neighbour, but also threatening the stability and political environment of regional countries.

Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Gulf powers frequently blame Iran for increasing terrorist activity in the Middle East, a line supported by the United States who have placed Tehran on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for decades.

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