Sovereignty versus Sectarianism: Contested Norms and the Logic of Regional Conflict in the Greater Levant

ULUSLARARASI İLİŞKİLER, VOLUME 15, NUMBER 60, 2018 

Steven HEYDEMANN* and Emelie CHACE-DONAHUE**

ABSTRACT

The Middle East is experiencing an extended period of turmoil and violent conflict. Two main explanations exist to account for heightened levels of conflict and competition. The first attributes current conditions to the intensification of sectarian polarization in the Arab east; regional dynamics are best explained by identity politics, which serve as instruments of sectarian regimes. The second attributes current conditions to state weakness; states in the Arab east are fragile, lacking effective institutions and suffering from a deficit of legitimacy, allowing state elites to govern in ways that exacerbate social cleavages. We view both these arguments as insufficient to explain patterns and trends in regional conflict across the greater Levant and the Arab east. Instead, we argue that current regional dynamics are best explained in terms of competition to determine whether a regional security order will be governed by the norm of sovereignty or the norm of sectarianism. This struggle plays out in an environment of normative fragmentation, where neither norm is hegemonic. It is unfolding most directly through violent confrontations within states that contain multi-confessional societies and exhibit high levels of cross-border intervention.

Keywords: Sectarianism; State Sovereignty; Order; Ideology; Norms; Regional Conflict

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* Prof. Dr., Middle East Studies and Government, Smith College, Massachusetts.

** MA Student, International Affairs, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. 

 


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