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Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't (Stanford Briefs) Paperback – July 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

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"In this account of the controversial tactics employed by Gulf-region governments to supress domestic uprisings during the Arab Spring, Matthiesen argues that, while these methods staved off revolution in the short term, failure to address calls for democratic reform will ultimately intensify a range of problems, endangering the future stability of the Middle East."—Survival


"...Sectarian Gulf is unquestionably an important book because it contributes to our understanding of the Middle East in a new way . . . [Matthiesen] has written an excellent and personal account of the challenges facing the Persian Gulf."—Jeanne Guedj, World Religion Watch


"Toby Matthiesen's Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring that Wasn't is an extremely timely analysis: an attempt to 'tell the story of how the Arab Spring affect these Gulf countries' and to delineate the use of sectarianism as a governance strategy since 2011 . . . [I]t is ideal as an introductory reader that contributes to academic understandings of sectarianism and Gulf politics while remaining comprehensible to general readers . . . [T]his book offers a convincing and balanced analysis that is well worth reading."—Jessie Moritz, Asian Studies Review


"Sectarian Gulf [presents] informative and lucid accounts of the forces, characters, and events shaping the recent development of the sectarian politics of the Gulf region [and also contains] direct eyewitness accounts and a . . . vivid portrayal of the characters and events."—Sami Zubaida, The Middle East Journal


"Toby Matthiesen's Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't is an important book. It serves as both an eyewitness account to the initial phase of the Arab Spring, as demands for reform cascaded across parts of the Gulf states, and an analysis of how and why the regional counterrevolution succeeded in isolating and fracturing the burgeoning protest movements . . . The points put forward by Matthiesen to depict the rise of sectarian politics in the Gulf as a policy response to the Arab Spring are compelling. So, too, are the personal observations from the author's travels to Bahrain and Kuwait in 2011 and after, and to Saudi Arabia prior to the start of the upheaval . . . Matthiesen's work breaks new ground in analyzing both the root causes and the trajectory of sectarian tension in the Middle East . . . Sectarian Gulf therefore sets the scene for a much longer and more complex set of struggles that will define the politics of the Gulf for years and even decades to come."—Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, H-Diplo
"The description and analysis of events in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are excellent, especially the information of Shi'ite political movements in each country . . . Recommended."—C. H. Allen, CHOICE
"Providing an unbiased analysis of how the Arab Spring transformed politics-as-usual in the Gulf, Toby Matthiesen has given us an invaluable contribution to the discussion of the grassroots revolutionary movements that have swept the region. His insight on the rise of politically-driven sectarianism is critical to our understanding of the chief drivers of conflict in the Middle East today."—Joost Hiltermann, International Crisis Group
"Sectarian Gulf is an excellent and timely account of the challenges facing the Persian Gulf today. A must read for anyone interested in understanding the region and the forces that are pulling it apart."—Toby C. Jones, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia
"Toby Matthiesen has combined first-rate academic research with intensive on-the-ground investigations to produce an excellent account of the Arab Spring in the Gulf monarchies. He artfully weaves first-person reporting with scholarly analysis in a very readable and topical book."—F. Gregory Gause, III, University of Vermont
"Matthiesen offers a personal, gripping, and rigorous account of how political entrepreneurs and governments have worked to produce sectarianism across the Gulf, with dangerous implications for the future stability of the region. This short book will help readers to put into context a wide range of developments across the region, and to understand the true significance of the resurgence of an alarming new form of sectarian politics."—Marc Lynch, George Washington University

"The same abuses of power that provoked uprisings across the Arab world have driven protests in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in recent years. Toby Matthiesen offers an admirably clear and dispassionate account of how, as in Syria, these regimes have used a sectarian framing to strengthen their own efforts at counter-revolution."—Charles Tripp, School of Oriental and African Studies

About the Author

Toby Matthiesen is a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. He has published in The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Middle East Journal, and Middle East Report, and has done extensive fieldwork in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. He previously worked as a Gulf Consultant for the International Crisis Group.
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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Briefs
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (July 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804785732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804785730
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Toby Matthiesen is a Senior Research Fellow in the International Relations of the Middle East, at St. Antony's College, University of Oxford. He was previously a Research Fellow at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, and at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of "Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Spring that Wasn't" (Stanford University Press, 2013) and "The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism" (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

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Everything you never knew you wanted to know about the Gulf, with the ins and outs of key players, written well and with obvious local perspective.
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For a Middle Easterner or anyone already familiar with how the GCC does politics in our region of the world, the book simply reiterates common knowledge. Sectarian Gulf states that the Arab Spring resurrected three visible threats to the Middle East’s ancien régimes. The first is the “Shia threat,” encapsulated by Iran’s looming presence and aggressive vociferation. The GCC countries are all governed by Sunni ruling families, and any Iranian interference in the region threatens old hierarchies in favor of Islamic states that follow the Shia sect.

However, in addition to the fear of growing Shia sentiment, the GCC’s royal families also worry that the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which regained its intensity after winning elections in Egypt and Tunisia, might also destabilize the region’s power structures. Hence, Sunni Islamism has become just as much a paramount threat to the status quo as Shia Islamism.

Finally, the GCC regimes have had to contend with a third, even more dangerous threat: people power, which succeeded in toppling dictators in various other Arab countries. To prevent “the people”—the secular majority who view themselves as disenfranchised by current political systems—from uniting against the Gulf monarchies, the GCC’s royal elite hired sectarian identity entrepreneurs to help this group maintain its dominance. “[S]ectarianism,” writes Matthiesen, “was not just a government intervention but the result of an amalgam of political, religious, social and economic elites who all used sectarianism to further their own aim” (p. ix).

Overall, while Sectarian Gulf is merely an introductory account of the GCC’s political reaction to the Arab Spring, it remains highly relevant. This book illustrates how post-Arab Spring sectarianism is a particular strategy to divide “the people” and ward off the threat of serious, structural reforms.
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Interesting and different perspective on events and players in the Gulf region.

Have some substantial differences with the author's viewpoints on events in Bahrain, based on long-time experience and residence in Saudi Arabia and some related periods in Bahrain on programs for HRD and industrial training (I've been a "Gulfie" area specialist in various capacities since the mid-1970s).

I've read better, and I've read worse. While I have no regrets about buying and reading this book, I would recommend some other materials instead as "read ahead to get smart quick" references to Americans heading to the "upper Gulf" region (including Saudi Arabia).
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i really like the book and wish to have the Arabic education
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