This article applies the concept of securitization to the Middle East with a focus upon the securitization of the Shi’a other. Such processes occur across time and space and are not restricted to state borders, escaping the Westphalian straitjacket. As a consequence, one must consider the construction of space and political structures across the region in order to understand the traction that such moves can find. It appears then, that in seeking to maintain short-term survival, regimes have sacrificed long-term stability, but the impacts of such moves transcend the typically linear constructed audiences within securitization moves. A key contribution of this article is to consider the extent to which audiences within the Middle East, both intended and unintended, transcend the linear audiences found within conventional processes of securitization. The article uses two case studies as a means of exploring the extent to which securitization can be applied to the Middle East. Such an approach helps us to identify the logics that are involved within the process of securitization, with consideration of the idea that we can populate a broad framework about the universal application of securitization to context specific cases.
Over the past decade, regional politics across the Persian Gulf - and within the GCC in particular - has increasingly been characterised by suspicion and mutual distrust. Predominantly appearing in the guise of tensions between the Arab side of the Gulf on the west and the Iranian side on the east - divisions which are exacerbated by ethnicity, religion, economics, geopolitics, demographics, and geography - are coupled with intra-Arab and intra-GCC tensions about the nature of regional order. Yet at times of crisis, as Michael Barnett (1998) astutely observed, opportunities emerge to reshape the nature of relations. In what follows I reflect on Barnett’s Constructivist take to explore the nature of Persian Gulf politics at a regional level. Other contributors to this special issue take a deeper dive into the intricacies of political, social, economic, governance and human rights concerns and, as such, I will largely steer clear of such observations. Instead, I will engage in a broader set of reflections about the nature of regional order and the impact of the pandemic on changing order.
In early February 2011, people took to the streets of Manama, Bahrain, protesting against the political system of the Al Khalifa monarchy. Although initially occurring along non-sectarian lines, the protests were quickly framed as such and, as a consequence, the nature of the protests changed. This article engages with this process of sectarianism, exploring how space became contested and how such sites took on political – and sectarian – meanings. In the article, we argue that by framing the protests in such a way, the Al Khalifa regime was able to create a master narrative that impacted upon all facets of Bahraini society, at home and abroad.
Despite areas of synergy, international relations theory has typically considered South and West Asia as analytically distinct. Following the work of Barry Buzan, whose work on regional security complexes is formative in shaping the intellectual debate, the Gulf is considered a subregion of a larger Middle Eastern regional security complex, while South Asia is regarded as its own regional security complex. This article argues that the analytical distinction between these different (sub)regional security complexes has become blurred, reflecting the emergence of a supercomplex. We contend that strong patterns of amity, enmity and securitisation that link the two regional security complexes suggest a thinning boundary between them, with the potential for them to merge. We distinguish between a supercomplex and a merger using the concepts of amity, enmity and securitisation provided by regional security complex theory. We add the English School’s ideas of order, justice and regional society to enhance our understanding. We focus on three issues in which the two regions interact: the Abraham Accords; the Iran nuclear crisis, and Jammu and Kashmir. We argue that increasing relations between the two regional security complexes have resulted in a supercomplex, with powerful states in both regional security complexes seeking to project their power into the adjacent regional security complex. We further note the strengthening patterns of amity, enmity and securitisation connecting the two regions, leading to a thinning of the boundary separating South and West Asia. We contribute to the literature on regional security complex theory by clarifying the distinction between a supercomplex and a merger through the South-West Asian case.
Debates around the sectarianisation of politics across the Middle East and Muslim world more broadly have opened new spaces of enquiry into the interrelationship between religion and geopolitics. The nature of links between Iran and Saudi Arabia and various groups in the Muslim world differs across time and space, shaped by a range of context specific factors. Networks are shaped by the interaction of their constituent parts and the organisation of power among their members and thus, as a consequence networks are neither fixed nor universal. Here, context is key, resulting in different types of relationships across spaces.
Much academic and policy-oriented work on transnational religious networks has historically reflected Western governments’ preoccupation with security issues vis-à-vis Islamist ‘extremist’ groups. This narrow prism distorts understanding of the roles that such networks play, and thus necessitates further exploration of the multiple levels and characteristics of transnational religious networks, be they state, sect or community-led.