Frederic Wehrey
Frederic Wehrey is a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where his research focuses on governance, conflict, and security in Libya, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf.
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This collection seeks to advance our understanding of intra-Islamic identity conflict in the Middle East. Instead of treating distinctions between and within Sunni and Shia Islam as primordial and immutable, it examines how political economy, geopolitics, domestic governance, social media, non- and sub-state groups, and clerical elites have affected the transformation and diffusion of sectarian identities. 

Particular attention is paid to how conflicts over distribution of political and economic power have taken on a sectarian quality, and how a variety of actors have instrumentalised sectarianism. The volume, covering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Iran, and Egypt, includes contributors from a broad array of disciplines including political science, history, sociology, and Islamic studies.

Beyond Sunni and Shia draws on extensive fieldwork and primary sources to offer insights that are empirically rich and theoretically grounded, but also accessible for policy audiences and the informed public.

Table of Contents

Frederic Wehrey

  1. Beyond Sectarianism in the Middle East? Comparative Perspectives on Group Conflict
    Paul Dixon


  1. The Sectarianism of the Islamic State: Ideological Roots and Political Context
    Hassan Hassan
  2. The Sectarianization of the Syrian War
    Heiko Wimmen
  3. Sectarianism and Iranian Foreign Policy
    Afshon Ostovar


  1. Shia-centric State-building in Post-2003 Iraq
    Fanar Haddad
  2. The Unraveling of Taif: The Limits of Sect-based Power-sharing in Lebanon
    Joseph Bahout
  3. Twitter Wars: Sunni-Shia Conflict and Cooperation in the Digital Age
    Alexandra Siegel
  4. The Political Economy of Sectarianism: How Gulf Regimes Exploit Identity Politics as a Survival Strategy
    Justin Gengler
  5. The Roots of Sectarian Law and Order in the Gulf: Bahrain, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and the Two Historical Disruptions
    Staci Strobl


  1. The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State
    Cole Bunzel
  2. Sectarianism and Political Pragmatism: The Paradox of Egypt’s al-Nour Salafis
    Stéphane Lacroix
  3. Religious Authority and Sectarianism in Lebanon
    Alexander D.M. Henley

This research was made possible through a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Praise for this publication

“This much-needed volume moves beyond primordialist and instrumentalist explanations of the issue of sectarianism. Its fascinating case-studies show not only why it is important to understand the geopolitical, institutional and religious sources of sectarianism in a changing Middle East, but also how it is possible to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of the subject.”
—Morten Valbjørn, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University

“A contextual but comparative analysis of the geopolitical, institutional, and ideational drivers of sectarianism in the contemporary Middle East. Navigating beyond primordial and instrumental theoretical explanations, Beyond Sunni and Shia offers a multilayered analysis of why sectarianism assumes today such a powerful role in the domestic politics and foreign policies of Middle East states and transnational movements, and what are the prospects of moving beyond sectarianism in the future.”
—Bassel F. Salloukh, Associate Professor of Political Science, Lebanese American University, Beirut