Identity Politics and Regional Order in the Levant


Kristina KAUSCH*


The primary identification with sectarian, confessional and ethnic affiliations has come to underpin and drive conflict across the Levant, raising doubts over the future of a fading regional order. The Middle Eastern debate on sectarianism joins the ranks of global debates on political contestation based on community identities and the instrumentalisation of identity politics for political gain. The relationship between identity and political order is highly ambiguous in that identity can be a constituent and disruptive force of order alike. The surge of sectarian identity politics in the Levant is commonly ascribed to four broad, interconnected elements: The weakness of Arab nation-states; pre-existing ethno-sectarian divides; the power vacuums that arose in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and following the 2011 uprisings; and the efforts of regional and extra-regional players to strike geopolitical advantage of these conditions. In both the domestic and regional contexts, it is primarily exclusionary identity politics, not the diversity of identities as such, that is prone to fuel conflict. In order to reduce the potential of political instrumentalisation of communal affiliations, the policy challenge is to reinforce the constituent dimension of identity, build inclusive identity narratives, and use identity politics not as a disruptor but as glue between communities. A constructive, inclusive brand of identity politics would need to forge a more malleable delineation of identity as a flexible, dynamic choice.

Keywords: Identity Politics, Regional Order, Sectarianism, Arab Countries, Middle East, the Levant


* Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brussels.