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Explaining Sectarian Violence in the Middle East: A Comparative Study of Bahrain and Yemen

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Sectarian violence in the Middle East has continued to rise amid regional turmoil and transition. Though violence perpetuated along sectarian identities has occurred at times during the Middle Easts long history, it is not a constant or normal state of events. This thesis explains the rise in contemporary sectarian violence through comparative analysis and literature on Middle Eastern sectarianism and ethnic violence theory. This thesis has identified four primary independent variables as contributing factors to the dependent variable of sectarian violence. Three primary independent variables heightened the saliency of sectarian identity and regional sectarian tensions identity group grievances, elite instrumentalization, and the regional context of the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. State collapse, the fourth and most critical variable, then transforms sectarian tensions into sectarian violence due to the political, economic, and security vacuums created. This conclusion is demonstrated by comparing sectarian violence in Bahrain and Yemen. Though Bahrain and Yemen share the first three variables grievances, instrumentalization, and regional context, they diverge on the forth variable, state collapse. As a result, Yemen, which has experienced state collapse, has escalating sectarian violence, while Bahrain has failed to experience sectarian violence due to a robust and capable state apparatus.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Government and Political Science

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