Iraq, Saudi Arabia span a religious divide

The two reflect Islam’s big split but in opening their border, they show a new tolerance.

Reuters
Trucks enter Iraq from Saudi Arabia at the Arar transit point Nov. 18.

A key desert crossing at the heart of the Middle East reopened on Wednesday, three decades after being closed to regular traffic. At the Arar transit point, Saudi Arabia finally began to allow vehicles and people from Iraq to cross the 505-mile border. It was a tangible sign of a growing tolerance between Shiite-dominated Iraq and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia – and a counterpoint to Iran’s religious aggression in the region.

Just days before the opening, leaders of the two Arab nations issued a statement citing “the need to keep the region away from tensions.” That is quite a contrast to Saudi Arabia writing off Iraq as a “lost cause” in 2003 after Shiites took power in Baghdad following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. The border was first closed in 1990 after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

A rapprochement between the two oil giants has been five years in the making. It reflects other tectonic shifts in the Mideast, such as recent recognition of Israel by a few more Arab states and a general response by the region’s leaders to appease restless youth mobilized on social media.

At a practical level, Iraq needs Saudi investments to provide jobs and to recover from a devastating war with the Islamic State. Saudi Arabia seeks to counter Iran’s strong hand in Iraq. Yet each shows a willingness to curb the historic Sunni-Shiite rivalry in the Middle East.

As a struggling democracy, Iraq is now better able to balance the interests of its Sunni and Shiite populations. During the pandemic, Iraq’s top cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for aid to be given to people of all faiths. And Saudi Arabia is trying to show a new face of moderate Islam. Earlier this year it sponsored a TV drama showing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living together in a peaceful village.

The line of cargo trucks at the Iraq-Saudi border on Wednesday was more than a sign of commercial exchange. The two countries “follow the same religion and share the same interests and challenges,” said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And, he might have added, it’s about time they show it.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.