To Rebel or not to Rebel? Sectarian belonging and Political Change

PAVE webinar
5:00 pm
6:30 pm

New session of the "Political participation in its “extreme” Middle Eastern context" webinar, organised by the FMSH and Ifpo for the PAVE project. Intervention of Adham Saouli, senior Lecturer, University of St Andrews.


Like all revolts, the Arab uprisings of the last decade have stirred passions, disrupted orders, and generated imaginations of better political futures. In the heterogeneous societies of Iraq and Lebanon, the 2019 uprisings promised new political orders. It was a rare and largely spontaneous episode/rebellion where both societies reclaimed their agency against a rotten political class and system, momentarily overcoming their sectarian and political divides. But then (and not unlike other Arab uprisings, even in homogeneous societies), the protest eroded. The question on whether people should continue to rebel or not resurfaced and coincided with the reproduction of politico-sectarian divides. Why have the uprisings failed to produce their desired goals? What role does sectarianism play in this failure?

To attribute the failure of the uprisings solely to sectarianism would be an exaggeration. But to dismiss its impact would be misleading. Treating sectarianism as a form of allegiance and devotion to a sectarian community, an identity group, this talk will explore four reasons that explain the failure of the uprisings in the two cases:

  1. Sectarian identities and national imaginations;
  2. Politico-sectarian clientelist networks;
  3. Nexus of domestic-International dynamics;
  4. and Normative contestations.        


Adham Saouli is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews. His disciplinary interests are in Comparative Politics and International Relations, with a focus on the Middle East region. Adopting a historical sociology approach, Saouli’s interests include state formation, politics and foreign policy of divided societies, and social movements. He is the author of the Arab State: Dilemmas of Late Formation (Routledge, 2012); Hezbollah: Socialisation and its Tragic Ironies (Edinburgh University Press, 2019); editor of Unfulfilled Aspirations: Middle Power Politics in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2020); and co-editor of The War for Syria: Regional and International Dimensions of the Syrian Uprisings (Routledge, 2019). He is the Editor of Disruptions, a book series on social movements and revolutions by Edinburgh University Press.

Published at 13 January 2022