It’s not hard to find stereotypes, caricatures and outright bigotry when talk in the Middle East turns to the tensions between Islam’s two main sects.
Shiites are described as devious, power-hungry corruptors of Islam. Sunnis are called extremist, intolerant oppressors.
Hatreds between the two are now more virulent than ever in the Arab world because of Syria’s civil war. On Sunday, officials said four Shiites in a village west of Cairo were beaten to death by Sunnis in a sectarian clash unusual for Egypt.
Hard-line clerics and politicians on both sides in the region have added fuel, depicting the fight as essentially a war of survival for their sect.
But among the public, views are complex. Some sincerely see the other side as wrong – whether on matters of faith or politics. Others see the divisions as purely political, created for cynical aims.
Sunnis are the majority across the Islamic world. In the Middle East, Shiites have strong majorities in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain, with significant communities in Lebanon and other parts of the Gulf.