The Salience of Sectarianism: Making Sect Stick in Syria and Iraq
Browne, Craig McCrea
How did a call for peaceful protests citing political and socio-economic grievances come to be overshadowed by brutal sectarian violence? This thesis uses process tracing to argue that the increased sectarianization of the Syrian conflict was due to the increased dominance of opposition organizations that were willing to compete with the regime's sectarian discourse and behavior. These organizations came from abroad and were supported from abroad. In other words, the regime set the scene and the dominant opposition groups wrote the story. While sectarian identities existed in Syria and Iraq before their respective conflicts, these social categories waxed and waned depending on context. Once conflict broke out, governing authorities were quick to use sectarian tactics. Though both governments faced resistance early on, it took some time for open conflict to break out. When this happened, well-organized, well-trained, and well-financed organizations flooded both countries and met the authorities head-on in struggles that became increasingly sectarian. As such, the increased sectarianization of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq is due to the organizations inclined towards sectarianism becoming militarily dominant amongst opposition to the already sectarianizing authorities.
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