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The divide between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's most prominent Shiite and Sunni powers, respectively, has deep roots. If we are to understand what is really happening in the Middle East today – not just in Syria – one must consider the origins of the Sunni-Shiite schism, the Arab-Persian divide, and past struggles over the governance of Islam.Today, 90 percent of all Muslims are Sunni, and 10 percent are Shiite.The next year, the Persian emperor, Yazdegerd III, fled to the border province of Khorasan and the Arabization of Persia began, with Persians taking Arab names and converting to Islam.Until the year 1500, almost all Persians were Sunni Muslims.Of course, Iran not only represents only a tiny minority of Muslims; Iranians are not Arabs.As the Sunni world's most influential country, Saudi Arabia knows that it must do what it takes to limit Iran. In Syria – a Sunni-majority country where, incidentally, a Sunni Muslim caliphate, the Umayyads, once prospered – Iran is spending billions of dollars to prop up President Bashar Assad's regime, dominated by members of a minority Shiite sect, the Alawites (historically known as Nusayris).
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