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Saudi Shi'ite clerics slam remarks by Mubarak

Written by: Staff

DUBAI, Apr 10 (Reuters) A group of Saudi Shi'ite clerics and intellectuals have criticised remarks by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the loyalty of Shi'ite Muslims to their countries, saying they inflame sectarian strife.

Mubarak said Shi'ites in Arab states, in most of which they are outnumbered by Sunni Muslims, were more loyal to Iran than their own countries. His comments, aired on Saturday, came amid worsening conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq.

''These remarks incite the sectarian spirit among the citizens of Arab nations, especially at this critical time for the Arab and Muslim nations,'' said a statement signed by 122 members of Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ite community.

''We see no acceptable justification for such remarks,'' said the statement, made available to Reuters today.

In a separate statement, leading Saudi Shi'ite cleric Hassan al-Saffar said the primary loyalty of Shi'ites was to their country ''of which they are an integral part''.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is concerned about the rising influence of Shi'ite Iran, and fears tensions between Sunnis and Sh'ites in neighbouring Iraq may spill over to the kingdom.

The Gulf Arab state follows an austere school of Sunni Islam and some Saudi Shi'ites feel they are an oppressed minority.

Egypt's presidential spokesman said yesterday Mubarak had made the comments out of concern for the worsening situation in Iraq, which is 60 per cent Shi'ite.

The Iraqi government has criticised Mubarak's comments, which echo accusations by Iraqi Sunnis about their own Shi'ite leaders.

Iraqi Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders are struggling to form a unity government, four months after parliamentary elections, as the country slides closer to all-out civil war.


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