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June 24, 2016

By Yacine Boudhane

An announcement  released by Iraqi embassy  in Algeria granting  ‘facilitation for those who wish to visit Shi’i religious sites in Iraq’ has raised anger among Algerians who have been considered it as an Iraqi-Iranian coordinated attempt to spread Shi’ism in this predominately Sunni country.

The unprecedented announcement which the embassy released in June 15  on its website angered many Algerians. The announcement called on those who wish to visit the Shi’i holy shrines in Iraq  to approach the embassy to get exceptional privileges.

The announcement states that :‘The Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in Algeria wishes to inform Algerian brothers that they can obtain permits for entry into Iraqi territories for the purpose of Shi’i religious sites by applying through the email address of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture shown below.’

بيان السفارة العراقية

 

Iraqi embassy’s announcement has been removed after it sparked angry reactions among Algerians.

The announcement has sparked furious reactions across Algerian social media. Activists called for immediate intervention to stop what they described as ‘unacceptable’, ‘blatant interference in Algeria’s internal affairs’ and ‘ an attempt to stir sectarian violence among Algerians’ who majority of them follow Maliki school of Sunni Islam.

The rejection campaign and resentment in the streets prompted the Iraqi embassy to lift the announcement from its website. In the meantime, Algeria’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Mohammed Isa, promised he would discuss the matter with Iraqi ambassador, Abdulrihman al-Hussein and would ask for clarifications in their meeting scheduled the following week.

Some Algerians view the embassy announcement as a reflection of coordinated efforts between Iraq and Iran to spread Shi’i doctrine of absolutist ‘wilyat al-faqih’ (rule of cleric) which is practised by the theocratic regime in Iran.

Algerian observers accuse Iranian regime of attempting to spread the Iranian version of Shi’ism to overcome the deep isolation it has been suffering in the region. They believe that Iran has recently launched its missionary campaign in the Arab countries of predominately Sunni populations  in coordination  with its Iraqi Shi’i allies who have risen to power following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Algerian political expert Yahya Bouzeid pointed out that ‘the behaviour of Iraqi embassy is  a reflection of Iraq’s sectarian policies  which are consistent with that of  Iran.  We are aware that a number of Algerians have spent a few years in Iran for studying at the religious seminaries in the holy city of Qom. I have no doubts they have been  approached by the Iranian authorities. Also, videos circulated on YouTube show a number of pilgrims to Shi’i  holy cities of Najaf and Karbala have came from the Maghreb countries through Europe.’

He added ‘there have been systematic endeavours aiming at converting Sunnis into Shi’ism. So the Algerian authorities must act quickly to deal with this sort of activities to protect Algeria’s national interests.’

In November 2015, the Iraqi Shi’i radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr provoked Algerians with an unprecedented statement in which he called upon them  not to fear the intimidation of the ‘unfaithful’ Muslims when practising their religious rituals. Sadr had criticised a US report on freedom of religions released in 2013 for overlooking the presence of Shi’i sect in Algeria. He said  that ‘the Shia in Algeria have been oppressed’  and’  they should reject to be ‘subjugated’ to extremists.’

Previously the Iraqi Baratha news agency had claimed that ‘thousands of Algerians have converted to Shi’ism, thanks to ‘overt and covert efforts exerted by some institutions there’. The report reveals that Shiism has spread in several Algerian cities including Batna, Oran, Setif, Tebessa in addition to the capital, Algiers.

Reports on Iran’s Shi’i missionaries in Algeria have revealed that these activities have targeted social, cultural and economic activities, in particularly in poor areas.

Video shows documentary conducted by Al Arabiya TV Channel on activities aimed at converting poor Algerians into Iranian version of Shi’ism in a town near Tunisian borders.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Track Persia.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.