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Casting the Other as an existential threat: The securitisation of sectarianism in the international relations of the Syria crisis

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With the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the Sunni–Shiite divide came back to the fore in regional politics. In this context, sectarian identities have now acquired a security dimension, as actors have started framing each other as existential threats. This article aims to examine the process by which sectarian identities become security issues and sources of conflict. We claim that primordial and instrumentalist and rationalist approaches to identity cannot capture the complexities of sectarianism in Middle East international relations. Instead, we draw on securitisation theory to examine the speech acts and narratives leading to the construction of sectarianism as a security issue in the Middle East. We examine Hezbollah’s and Saudi Arabia’s speech acts towards the Syria crisis as revelatory cases in the securitisation of the Sunni–Shiite divide in the post-2011 order.
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Keywords: Hezbollah; Saudi Arabia; Sectarianism; identity; securitisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 2016

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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