Some of Egypt's leading Islamist parties are planning a demonstration this week in Tahrir Square to protest what they believe are warming relations between Iran and Egypt. Their concerns are not focused solely on a possible diplomatic rapprochement, but what they fear more -- creeping Shiism in Sunni lands.
Since the Egyptian revolution, Sunni animosity in Egypt toward Shia Muslims has increased and gone public in a country where, in the past, doctrinal differences between the two Islamic sects were barely mentioned.
Even at al Azhar, the mosque and university complex that is a seat for Sunni learning and where Shia jurisprudence is taught as part of the curriculum, there is far less tolerance than in the past.
"You can't trust the Shia because of taqiya," a scholar at Al Azhar told me in February when I was in Cairo. He was referring to a practice permitted in Shia Islam whereby followers may deny or otherwise obscure their religious beliefs if they feel they are under threat of persecution.
The dispensation of taqiya was particularly important historically because the Shia often lived as minorities in Sunni-dominated societies, as is the case in Egypt and much of the Arab world. The concept of taqiya does not exist in Sunni jurisprudence, but the practice of self-preservation is not unknown.
The Egyptian government under former President Hosni Mubarak considered Iran its enemy for different reasons. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's regime articulated the grievances that many Arabs felt toward the United States and its support for dictators like Mubarak in their own countries.
Iran also stood with Syria as the bulwark against Israel's harsh treatment of Arabs, particularly Palestinians. Moreover, Mubarak often feared -- unjustifiably -- that Egypt's Islamists would embrace the Iranian model of a theocratic state.
Since the election of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran has viewed the Islamist presidency as an opportunity, ignoring much of the criticism among Egypt's Islamists. But the reality is something different: instead of enhancing Muslim solidarity, the rise of Egypt's different strands of Islamism have served to confront Iran on political and theological grounds.(...)