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Cheat Sheet On Middle East Islamic Groups

Updated on October 22, 2012

Who's Who in the Middle East

The two major players in the Middle East are the Sunni and Shiite ( Shi'ite, or Shi'a) religions. Governments are not secular in The Middle East so one of these two religions also dominate the politics in the different Islamic countries.

A real quick lesson on the difference between the two religions. In a nutshell they disagree on the succession of the prophet Mohammed and the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam. One group believes the Mahdi has already been here and the other group believes he hasn't arrived yet. There is actually another third major religion in the Middle East, kind of like the stepchild of the two other groups called Salafism which is closely related to to Wahhabism.. The Salafi are hardcore conservative Islamists


American's used to just a couple of main political parties in the United States find it hard to grasp all the different political parties in the Middle East. Egypt alone has over fifty political Parties.

Below I'm listing the most common political parties and terrorist groups (they are often interchangeable) that are making the news these days.

Islamic militant group and political party
Badr Organization
Militia from Iran now joined with Iraq government forces
Muslim Brotherhood
Arab world's most influential Islamic movement
Mahdi Army
Thugs posing as Militia now a politcal group in Iraq
The Original Bad Guys
Quds Force
Special Unit Of iranian Military
Islamic Mysticism
Conservative branch of Sunni Islam
Based in Lebanon. Main supporter is Iran

The big Shiite power player is Iran, which is trying to extend it's influence over the mostly Sunni Middle East through it's affiliation with terror groups such as Hezbollah and their very own Qud Forces. Iran's special military unit Quds force is tasked with exporting the views put forth by the Iran Islamic revolution through any means, including terror.

Iraq, before the gulf wars, was a counterweight to Iran but the newly elected government in Iraq is now Shiite dominated and the influence of Iran is being felt In Iraq now. Saudi Arabia is now the leading bulwark against the spread of Iranian influence.

Saudi Arabia is also home to more Salafi and and people who practice Wahhabism then anywhere else in the Middle East. Wahhabism is very anti-Shiite which of course, makes Iran an enemy. What they both have in common are very anti-American views.

There are some governments in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia that are quietly pro-American but those feelings don't usually spill over to the general population for a variety of reasons.

To appease their populations, relations between pro-American governments in the Middle East and the United States are usually handled through back doors without a lot of public scrutiny.

American Influence is ebbing in the Middle East, especially with the fall of the pro-West government in Egypt. The American policy of trying to introduce democracy to the region has largely failed while at the same time, “The Arab Spring” has not been the revolution people had hoped for.

I think radical Islamist groups in Syria have learned a thing or two from the governments that have fallen due to the “Arab Spring.” They have firmly entrenched themselves in the rebel Movement so that when the government of Syria falls, they will be able to sweep in and fill the vacuum.

What ever happens, as long as non-secular governments rule in the Middle East, there will be no real hope for democracy.


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