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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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"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
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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.
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).