Countering Sectarianism in the Middle East

from RAND Research Topic: Health and Health Care at on January 14, 2019 at 03:13PM

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.

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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