Shiism and Politics in the Middle East

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
October 2012 9781849042024 176pp
Available as an eBook


Although Iran’s Islamic Revolution had an electrifying effect on Shiite movements in Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, there exists a tendency to explain away much of Shiite politics in the Middle East as inextricably linked to Iranian foreign policy. Laurence Louër challenges this view, arguing that, in the end, local political imperatives have been the crucial factor determining the direction of Shiite states in the Middle East.

In this timely book, completed before the current outbreak of unrest in Bahrain that has formed part of the Arab Spring, Laurence Louër explains, the background of the Bahraini conflict in the context of the wider issue of Shiism as a political force in the Arab Middle East, amongst other issues relating to the role of Shiite Islamist movements in regional politics. Her study shows how Bahrain’s troubles are a phenomenon based on local perceptions of injustice rather than on the foreign policy of Shiite Iran.

More generally, the book shows that, though Iran’s Islamic Revolution had an electrifying effect on Shiite movements in Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, local political imperatives have in the end been the crucial factor in the direction they have taken. In addition, the overwhelming influence of the Shiite clerical institution has been diminished by the rise to prominence of lay activists within the Shiite movements across the Middle East and the emergence of Shiite anti-clericalism. This book contributes to dispelling the myth of the determining power of Iran in the politics of Iraq, Bahrain and other Arab states with significant Shiite populations.


‘A rare piece of scholarship … , the importance of this volume is that it explains Islam from a Shi’ite perspective. [It] should be  required reading for anyone dealing with Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain—where the Shi’ites constitute the majority of the population—and in other countries with Shi’ite minorities such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Pakistan, and especially Lebanon, which now has a Shi’ite plurality.’ — The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs

‘Laurence Louër is among the foremost authorities on contemporary Shiite Islamic politics in the Middle East. Her intrepid field work and mastery of difficult Arabic texts give her hands-on knowledge, and she is a keen reader of political developments. An indispensable contribution.’ — Juan Cole, Professor of History and Director, Center for Middle East and North African Studies, University of Michigan

‘This short and elegantly written book manages the extraordinarily difficult feat of presenting the reader with a lucid introduction to Shiism in the Middle East that is at the same time full of penetrating insights. … Dealing with Shiism in the Middle East as a whole, Louër’s book looks at the sect’s political transformation after the Islamic Revolution and the fall of Baathist Iraq, paying particular attention to the changing role of the clergy, the rise of lay authorities, and transnational patterns of religious thought and practice that cannot be divided by neatly marked national categories.’ — Faisal Devji, author of The Terrorist in Search of Humanity

‘An impressive historical sociological overview, …  Shiism and Politics in the Middle East is a welcome addition to academic research on Shia movements beyond Iran that offers valuable insight and incredible detail, accessible to scholars, policymakers, and general audiences interested in the topic. [The book] provides a strong springboard and opening new avenues for future research into a timely and important issue.’ – Ioana Emy Matesan, Syracuse University, H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences 


Laurence Louër is Associate Professor at the Centre for International Studies (CERI), Sciences. An Arabist, Louër specialises in Middle East studies. Editor of Critique Internationale from 2006 to 2017, she is the author, among other writings, of To Be An Arab in Israel (Hurst/Columbia), Transnational Shia Politics (Hurst/OUP) and Shiism and Politics in the Middle East (Hurst/OUP).    

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