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Saudi Arabia and Iran: The Struggle to Shape the Middle East Conference

On 11 September the Foreign Policy Centre and the Richardson Institute at the University of Lancaster hosted a conference entitled Saudi Arabia and Iran: The Struggle to Shape the Middle East, part of the Sectarianism, Proxies & De-sectarianisation (SEPAD) project.

Since the Arab Uprisings in late 2010 and the fragmentation of regime-society relations that followed, relationships between communities have continued to degenerate across the Middle East. The existence of difference is becoming increasingly violent, spilling out beyond state borders.

The power of religion and its international nature provide the means for external actors such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to exert influence over a number of groups and areas across the region.

However, this is not the only factor at play. Our project rejects the argument that religious tensions, in particular between Sunnis and Shi’as, are preordained or an unresolvable source of conflict in the region. Instead, it looks at how sectarian identities can be transformed, breaking down barriers and exclusionary forms of identity by exploring the political, legal, cultural, national and theological factors that can create space for a ‘de-sectarianisation’ of these societies.

The project and this conference will document and explain the conditions that have given rise to proxy conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia (including in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq, with lessons for Syria and Yemen), showing how violent political difference has been often unhelpfully framed as sectarianism.

Instead, it seeks to develop ideas to reshape international policy and facilitate more effective state-building efforts on the ground.

When September 11, 2018 9am- 3pm

Work Foundation, 21 Palmer St, Westminster, London SW1H 0AD


Dr Simon Mabon, Lancaster University

Professor Toby Dodge, LSE

Professor Madawi Al Rasheed, LSE

Dr Bassel Salloukh, Lebanese American University

Dr May Darwich, Durham University

Dr Chris Phillips, QMUL

Dr Rahaf Al Doughli, Lancaster University

Dr Eddie Wastnidge, The Open University

Dr Hannes Baumann, University of Liverpool

Dr Lucia Ardovini, Swedish Institute of International Affairs

Geneive Abdo, the Arabia Foundation

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