This December, Columbia University Press will publish Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings by Frederic M. Wehrey. The publisher’s description follows.
Beginning with the 2003 invasion of Iraq and concluding with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings, Frederic M. Wehrey investigates the roots of the Shiʿa-Sunni divide now dominating the Persian Gulf’s political landscape. Focusing on three Gulf states affected most by sectarian tensions—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait—Wehrey identifies the factors that have exacerbated or tempered sectarianism, including domestic political institutions, the media, clerical establishments, and the contagion effect of external regional events, such as the Iraq war, the 2006 Lebanon conflict, the Arab uprisings, and Syria’s civil war.
In addition to his analysis, Wehrey builds a historical narrative of Shiʿa activism in the Arab Gulf since 2003, linking regional events to the development of local Shiʿa strategies and attitudes toward citizenship, political reform, and transnational identity. He finds that, while the Gulf Shiʿa were inspired by their coreligionists in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, they ultimately pursued greater rights through a nonsectarian, nationalist approach. He also discovers that sectarianism in the region has largely been the product of the institutional weaknesses of Gulf states, leading to excessive alarm by entrenched Sunni elites and calculated attempts by regimes to discredit Shiʿa political actors as proxies for Iran, Iraq, or Lebanese Hizballah. Wehrey conducts interviews with nearly every major Shiʿa leader, opinion shaper, and activist in the Gulf Arab states, as well as prominent Sunni voices, and consults diverse Arabic-language sources.