In the past six years, much ink has been spilled in efforts to make sense of the commotion triggered by the Arab Spring. Multiple conflicts related to democratization, Islamist militancy and ethno-sectarian struggles are simultaneously raging throughout the Arab-majority region. Many within the epistemic community who study the region have grappled ceaselessly with these developments, but largely in piecemeal fashion. Very few attempts have been made to provide a holistic assessment of the various dynamics driving the geopolitics of the region.¹
This policy brief advances a comprehensive model to explain these seemingly disparate developments in the Middle East. It makes the case that regional turmoil stems from three broad and mutually reinforcing trends: the ongoing decay of authoritarian regimes, escalating geosectarianism and the proliferation of jihadism, particularly among those claiming to espouse ultra-conservative Salafist beliefs. Autocratic meltdown has accentuated the underlying and long-standing power struggles between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as insurrectionist Islamism.² Meanwhile, the weakening of state authority has provided both Iran and its Shia allies and Daesh and other jihadist forces with opportunities to expand their footprints throughout the region.
This brief will begin with an appraisal of post-Arab Spring dynamics, followed by an examination of the growing momentum of Sunni-vs.-Shia and intra-Sunni conflicts amid the weakening of Arab states. The brief will discuss ways that Daesh and other jihadist forces have benefited from both of the foregoing trends, finally providing a forecast of the evolving geopolitical situation in light of these drivers and distilling policy recommendations.
Please download the PDF to read the full policy brief.