The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held the Third Annual Conference on Democratic Transition on "Sectarianism and the Manufacturing of Minorities in the Greater Arab Mashreq", from 13 to 15 September, 2014 in Jordan.
Introducing he topic of the conference, Azmi Bishara spoke about the concept and historical transformations of sectarianism, leading to the emergence of political sectarianism in the Arab Mashreq. He noted that political sectarianism exploits dependence on a religion or a religious sect to transform the followers of this religion into a self-preserving group in the face of self-perceived threats, becoming a political force with demands from the state. Sectarianism is thus a phenomenon that accompanied the emergence of the modern state.
Bishara said that political sectarianism arose and flourished with the failure of the modern nation state to establish itself on the basis of citizenship and democracy. He emphasized that the authoritarianism that used the national political ideology to serve its domination of both Arabs and non-Arabs fuelled sectarianism and prevented the formation of citizenship as belonging to the state in favour of the sect. He detailed the various models of political sectarianism in the Mashreq, noting that the post-independence Lebanese state reproduced sectarianism with greater institutional dynamism than during the mandate period. On the other hand, Iraq has no history of political sectarianism. The transformation of social sectarianism into political sectarianism is one of the results of the US invasion and Iranian interference. Bishara argued that the history of the Arab Mashreq proves that political religiosity in conjunction with multi-sectarian societies suffering from an ill-defined national identity necessarily devolves into political sectarianism. Bishara also contended that the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant model is the result of a highly explosive encounter between jihadi Salafism and sectarianism.
Burhan Ghalioun also gave a lecture at the opening session of the conference on Sectarianism in National and Regional Conflicts, in which he stressed that the spectre of sectarianism looms over everything today: people's sense of identity, politics, and religion itself. He explained that political sectarianism emerged when the nation state project failed and when the state became simply a means of robbery, injustice and oppression, and that modern state did not provide the citizen with protection but rather humiliation and oppression. He stressed that political sectarianism is not created by the public nor their preoccupation, but rather the creation of the politicians who exploit it. He explained that sectarianism is often transnational and that the sectarian discourse has many voices and sources in the Arab Mashreq, but the Iranian regime is currently responsible for the worst sectarian discourse. Ahmad Beydoun presented the next lecture on the context and mechanisms that transform belonging to a sectarian or social group into politically exploited sectarian fanaticism.
The second day of the conference included two keynote lectures by Wajih Kawtharani and Tarek Mitri. These were followed with sessions on citizenship versus sectarianism and the sectarian issue in the Levant. The conference concluded with a presentation by the research team at the Center for Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology in Algeria about a research project on the sectarian issue in Ghardaia in southern Algeria. The city has been suffering for months from conflict and riots against the background of an ethnic/sectarian clash between the Arabic speaking Maliki followers and Mozabite speaking Ibadi followers.
The Annual Conference on Democratic Transition
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