Jordan in a new sectarian Middle East’

One of the most discussed features of Middle East politics in recent years has been the regional surge of sectarianism and how a so-called Shia/Sunni divide has impacted the nature of regional rivalries (e.g., Iran/Saudi) and dynamics within countries with a mixed population of both Shia and Sunni-Muslims (e.g., Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and various Gulf-countries).

Far less attention has so far been devoted to whether an impact of the emergence of a ‘new sectarian Middle East’ can also be traced in countries without a significant mix of both Shia and Sunni-Muslims. Recent findings from Egypt do, however, suggest that sectarianism can also play an important political role in such less likely places. In the Egyptian case, a number of recent studies have shown how Salafists have been very eager to use the specter of Shiism in their politico-religious rhetoric to further their own political ends, partly as part of their (intra-Sunni-Islamist) rivalry with the Ikhwan movement.

On the one hand, one would expect that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan would be quite similar to Egypt, not only because both countries have Sunni majorities and do not have any significant Shiite population, but also because it in Jordan is also possible to identify a significant Salafi current, at times in a rivalry with the Ikhwan-movement, and the regimes in both countries did, moreover, play a prominent role in the mid-00s debate on the rise of a ‘Shiite Crescent’ (a term famously coined by King Abdallah II). On the other hand Jordan differs in a number of respects significantly from the Egyptian case. Owing to the composition of East-Bankers and Palestinians the dynamics of identity politics have historically been very different from the Egyptian; contrary to the Egyptian republic Jordan is a monarchy and the rulers have often emphasized the Hashemite family’s religious roots; and due its geopolitical location Jordan has finally also been much more vulnerable to spill-overs from the (partly) sectarian civil-wars in Iraq and Syria as reflected in presence of large numbers of Iraqi and more recently Syrian refugees in the small kingdom.

Against this background, the ambition of this workshop will be to explore whether and how the regional resurgence of sectarianism has also left an impact on the Jordanian society and its foreign and domestic politics, to what extent the nature of impact is similar to or different from elsewhere and if so why this is the case.

The format of the workshop will be a one day event, with presentations from scholars on Jordanian foreign and domestic politics, on how the influx of refugees from the Iraqi and Syrian sectarian civil wars has impacted Jordan, on whether and how the ‘Islamist scene’ in Jordan has changed by the regional surge in sectarianism, how public opinion in Jordan has been impacted and these Jordan specific insights will be compared with insights from for instance Egypt, Lebanon and/or some of the monarchies etc. 

See the program here

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