Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism
Jan 14, 2019
Scholars and policymakers have sought to understand what drives sectarianism in the Middle East and its relationship to multiple conflicts, but far less attention has been focused on the factors that make a community more resilient to sectarianism. This report provides a better understanding of how communities inoculate themselves from sectarianism or recover from it and draws lessons on how to promote resilience and cross-sectarian cooperation.
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Sectarianism has become a destructive feature of the modern Middle East. Whether it is driven by political elites as a regime-survival strategy, by major powers to build regional influence, or by religious leaders and believers who are unwilling to accept the equal status of other religious groups, sectarianism is likely to remain part of the regional landscape for years to come. This does not mean, however, that sectarianism defines all facets of the Middle East or that the violence that stems from sectarianism is irreversible. Middle Eastern communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses, and even communities that experience sectarian strife can recover from it. This report takes a multidisciplinary approach to explore resilience to sectarianism through four Middle Eastern case studies: Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Iraq. No one factor is likely to be sufficient on its own, but the case studies suggest that formal and informal mechanisms for mediating the early onset of conflict, preexisting levels of trust between community leaders, activists with experience in building movements, strong border monitoring, and physical infrastructure that encourages sectarian mixing all help. Indeed, this research demonstrates that, at least at the local level, communities can resist the slide toward sectarianism.
Identifying Resilience and Cross-Sectarian Cooperation
Transcending Sectarian Politics: The Case of Beirut Madinati
Segregation and Sectarianism: Geography, Economic Distribution, and Sectarian Resilience in Bahrain
Resilience and Sectarianism in Syria: The Role of Foreign Support
Resilience to Sectarianism in Baghdad and Dohuk
Lessons and Policy Recommendations for Countering Sectarianism
This research was sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
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