Past eventMembers

Conflict in the Middle East: The Rising Influence of Sectarianism

10 May 2017 - 13:00 to 14:00

Chatham House, London


Nader Hashemi, Associate Professor, University of Denver; Director, Centre for Middle East Studies
Danny Postel, Assistant Director, Middle East and North African Studies Program, Northwestern University
Madawi Al-Rasheed, Visiting Professor, Middle East Centre, LSE; Research Fellow, Open Society Foundation
Chair: Dr Nussaibah Younis, Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House



The sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims has become a convenient, all-encompassing explanation for a growing number of conflicts in the Middle East. This popular Western narrative fails to address the complexities of the region’s conflicts and how non-sectarian conflicts have morphed into wars polarized along these Islamic identities. How and why has sectarianism become the harmful force it is today?

The panellists, using various case studies including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, will examine the dynamics of sectarian violence in the Middle East. They will challenge the simplicity of traditional notions of sectarianism as rooted in primordial loyalties and will argue that weak state institutions combined with regional geopolitical rivalries have created a vacuum in which sectarian divides now dominate. What can be done politically and socially to overcome this violent mobilisation along religious lines?