The journalist Ellen Knickmeyer coined a very important phrase on August 24 in The Washington Post, saying a "Shiite Giant" has emerged in the Arab world.

This is very true. The mind of this giant is based in Tehran. He has got arms powerful arms, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain.

On a daily basis we hear the names of various Shiite leaders who have become iconic, national, pan-Arab and pan-Islamic names in the Arab and Muslim world. This Shiite giant has been created by a variety of politicians and leaders including clergymen such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Moosa Al Sadr, Mohammad Hussain Fadlallah, Ali Al Sistani and Ali Khamenei. It has military leaders such as Moqtada Al Sadr and Hassan Nasrallah, and pragmatic politicians such as Abdul Al Aziz Al Hakim, Nabih Berri and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This giant was born out of the Islamic revolution of 1979, since one of its objectives was to emancipate the Shiites around the world. Before that they had been an underclass in most Arab countries, being poor, underdeveloped, uneducated and had very limited social mobility.

This was particularly true in Lebanon and Iraq, the two countries in which today, the Shiites enjoy a vary different standing.

This "Shiite Giant" has raised fears in the Arab world. It caused King Abdullah of Jordan to express fears that a Shiite Crescent was emerging in the Arab world. Earlier this year Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made similar comments on Al Arabiya TV, saying that the Shiites were more loyal to Iran than they were to their own countries. Although most Shiite politicians are allied to, supported by, or created by Iran, saying that they are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries is a gross exaggeration.

One rising name in Shiite politics, who should be observed in the weeks to come, is Ayatollah Mahmoud Al Hasani.

Al Hasani has been attracting increased attention in Iraq and the western media. He says that he is the highest religious authority in Iraq, higher even than the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani.

Like other Iraqi Shiite leaders he aims at creating an Iran-style theocracy in Baghdad, but one that is independent from Iranian control.

Anti-Iranism unites him with Moqtada Al Sadr, another cleric who is also critical of Iran's role in post-Saddam Iraq.

Al Hasani was once close to Moqtada Al Sadr because the two found much in common in their anti-Americanism and mild emotions for the Iranians. His men fought on the side of Al Sadr's army during his war against the Americans and former Iraqi prime minister Eyad Allawi in 2004.

Parted ways

Recently, however, Al Sadr and Al Hasani have parted ways. Al Hasani distanced himself from Al Sadr when the latter joined the political process, securing seats for his followers in parliament and earning them four cabinet posts in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

The current parliament and cabinet, according to Al Hasani, are illegal because they were created under the US occupation. Any person who legitimises them by joining the political process is an outcast and a traitor, he says.

He has put up several shows to show that he does have a strong power base in Iraq, equal to that of Al Sadr.

I decided to write about Al Hasani because earlier last week, the wise-man of Iraqi politics, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, announced that he would refrain from dealing with political affairs because his role had been marginalised by younger clerics (such as Al Sadr) and Iraqi politicians were no longer seeking his advice.

Al Sistani is the same man who negotiated a ceasefire to Al Sadr's wars against the US Army in 2004 and forced all Iraqis to vote in the elections of 2005 and 2006, claiming that it was their religious duty to jump-start a democratic post-Saddam Iraq.

He does not believe in armed resistance to the US occupation and certainly is opposed to the sectarian killings in the Shiite and Sunni communities, and the vicious cycle of revenge.

Rather than continue to be ignored Al Sistani has decided to remain silent on political matters. Coinciding with his decision is the rising influence of a dangerous cleric such as Al Hasani. He has all the elements needed to become another Moqtada Al Sadr. He is young and popular. He has his own militia. He is a man of religion and can stir up emotions in the Shiite community.

Al Hasani and Al Sadr do not want what is best for the Iraqi people. They care only for the Shiite community. In a country where tribalism prevails, this is understandable but what cannot be tolerated is engaging in acts of violence against other Iraqis. Because he is powerful, unbalanced and sectarian, the rise of Al Hasani is dangerous to Iraq.

If this is the kind of leadership rising in Iraq to replace the wisdom of Ali Al Sistani and deform the "Shiite Giant" then the Arab world is in for difficult, violent and very sectarian times.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.