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Gulf states and Islamist responses to COVID-19: a changing relationship

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This article focuses on the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Gulf and examines how different responses to the pandemic are affecting the relationship between state institutions and Islamist actors. Several states and regimes are attempting to contain the spread of COVID-19 by imposing increasingly authoritarian measures and tightening social control, which in turn is causing a renewed wave of social unrest. The article shows how, in this increasingly unstable context, the relationships between state institutions and Islamist actors are developing along two main trends.

As a response to the pandemic, states in the Gulf are increasingly relying on the mobilisation of Islamic institutions and religious bodies to support lockdown and isolation policies, enlisting Islamic authority to compensate for the decreasing levels of popular trust in the regime. The tightening of authoritarian measures is bringing pre-existing tensions between Islamists and authorities back to the fore, resulting in an increased crackdown on religious opposition actors ad movements. This article shows that, while the extent to which these trends are developing depends on the national context under analysis, different state reactions to COVID-19 are already drastically altering the relationship between political institutions and Islamic ones, affecting both domestic and regional balances of power and highlighting the mutual dependency between religion and politics in the Gulf.
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Keywords: COVID-19; Gulf; Islamism; authoritarianism; political institutions; theocracy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Sweden

Publication date: November 2020

This article was made available online on October 26, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Gulf states and Islamist responses to COVID-19: a changing relationship".

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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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