Richard Norton

Sunnis and Shi’is: Has the Arab Spring Deepened the Divide?

Dr. Richard Norton, Boston University

November 1, 2013 (Fri) 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
UNM Continuing Education Auditorium
1634 University Blvd. NE (at the intersection with Indian School Rd.)

In the early years of the 21st Century, Iran enjoyed remarkable popularity in the Arab world and was on the geopolitical ascendancy.  Two wars on its borders removed detested regimes from power. In 2001, the Taliban regime crumbled when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.  Two years later Saddam Hussein in Iraq was toppled by the Anglo-American invasion of 2003.  Meanwhile, in Arab capitals, such as Cairo and Damascus, Hezbollah’s prowess was applauded and Hasan Nasrallah attained rock star popularity.  Particularly since the onset of the Arab Awakening in late 2010, Iran’s popularity has sagged, and an intense contest for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran has emerged.  While several Shi’i communities in the Arab world suffer many if not more indignities than their Sunni counterparts, one important aspect of the Arab Awakening has been a deepening Sunni-Shi’i divide, which has been actively encouraged by leading regional powers, especially Saudi Arabia, and sometimes promoted by the United States.  The conflation of the aspirations of the Arab Shi’i communities with the regional rivalry with Iran has had unfortunate consequences in several Arab countries, not least Bahrain.

Augustus Richard Norton is a Professor in the Departments of International Relations and Anthropology at Boston University, where is also the Director of the Institute for Iraqi Studies.  He is also Visiting Professor in the Politics of the Middle East at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.  His books include Hezbollah: A Short History (2007, 2009), Civil Society in the Middle East, as editor (1995, 1996, 2005), and Amal and the Shi’a (1987).  In 2006-7 he held a Senior Fulbright Islamic World grant for research in Egypt, Kuwait and Bangladesh.  Since then he has conducted extensive fieldwork in Bahrain. Dr. Norton received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  His new book, The Sunni-Shi’i Rift, will be published by Princeton University Press in early 2014.