Some Background Info on the Sunnis vs Shiites Drama
By Lee Keath
CAIRO (AP) — It’s not hard to find stereotypes, caricatures and outright bigotry when talk in the Middle East turns to the tensions between Islam’s two main sects.
Shiites are described as devious, power-hungry corruptors of Islam. Sunnis are called extremist, intolerant oppressors. Hatreds between the two are now more virulent than ever in the Arab world because of Syria’s civil war. On Sunday, officials said four Shiites in a village west of Cairo were beaten to death by Sunnis in a sectarian clash unusual for Egypt.
… But among the public, views are complex. Some sincerely see the other side as wrong — whether on matters of faith or politics. Others see the divisions as purely political, created for cynical aims. Even some who view the other sect negatively fear sectarian flames are burning dangerously out of control. There are those who wish for a return to the days, only a decade or two ago, when the differences did not seem so important and the sects got along better, even intermarried.
And some are simply frustrated that there is so much turmoil over a dispute that dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.
“Fourteen centuries after the death of the prophet, in a region full of destruction, killing, occupation, ignorance and disease, you are telling me about Sunnis and Shiites?” scoffs Ismail al-Hamami, a 67-year-old Sunni Palestinian refugee in Gaza. “We are all Muslims. … You can’t ignore the fact that (Shiites) are Muslims.”
Associated Press correspondents spoke to Shiites and Sunnis across the region. Amid the variety of viewpoints, they found a public struggling with anger that is increasingly curdling into hatred.
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