A House Divided: Islam in Today's Middle East

May 4, 2016

While these two Muslim groups have often co-existed peacefully over the course of history, in our time, sectarian differences have risen and boiled over, resulting in conflicts across the Middle East. Our guest is a longtime Middle East scholar who examines the religious, economic, and political factors involved.

  • Geneive Abdo, fellow at The Atlantic Council researching Iran and political Islam. She was formerly the liaison officer for the Alliance of Civilizations, a United Nations initiative aiming to improve relations between Islamic and Western societies. Before joining the U.N., Abdo was a foreign correspondent for twenty years, focusing on the Middle East and the Muslim world. She is the author of three books on the subject, and is here in New Hampshire speaking at the World Affairs Council's spring 'Global Tipping Points' program. Find out more about the World Affairs Council of N.H. and its upcoming events here.

A map of Sunni and Shia populations in the Middle East and South Asia:

Map from The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr
Credit http://www.vox.com/a/maps-explain-the-middle-east

Read more:

  • Council on Foreign Relations - The Sunni-Shia Divide, an Infoguide Presentation: Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen.
  • Vox - The Real Roots of Sunni-Shia Conflict: Beyond the Myth of "Ancient Religious Hatreds": Sunni-Shia sectarianism is indeed tearing apart the Middle East, but is largely driven by the very modern and very political rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. They have sought to fight one another on Sunni-Shia lines not out of religious hatred but rather because they see sectarianism as a tool they can use — thus making that religious division much more violent and fraught.
  • Geneive Abdo for Brookings - The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi‘a-Sunni Divide