In May 2019, tensions between Iran and the United States dramatically escalated following the imposition of US sanctions. Across the Persian Gulf a number of tankers were attacked, whilst others were seized, including a British oil tanker detained for “violating international maritime rules”. Amidst this escalation of tensions, international news outlets carried stories suggesting that Iran told its proxies to prepare for war. Referring to Iran’s long-standing relationships with groups across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine, these stories played on the idea of a complex web of often – although not exclusively – sectarian networks that cut across sovereign borders and help Tehran to achieve its geopolitical aims. Yet the reality of relations between Iran and local groups is far more complex, determined by a range of factors. This Editor’s Choice focuses on issue 9:4: Transnational religious networks and the geopolitics of the Muslim World, which is our annual Richardson Institute special issue.
In ‘Transnational identity claims, roles and strategic foreign policy narratives in the Middle East’, Edward Wastnidge explores how identity claims are inherent in the transnational appeal of these two regional powers. Focusing on Yemen, Vincent Durac’s ‘The Limits of the Sectarian Narrative in Yemen’ starts by critically contextualising the notion of sectarianism in relation to politics and conflict in the Middle East. Simon Fuchs’ ‘Faded Networks: The Overestimated Saudi Legacy of anti-Shi‘I Sectarianism in Pakistan’ seeks to debunk some of the arguments surrounding the extent and depth of the Saudi influence on anti-Shi’i sectarian discourses in Pakistan.
-Dr Matthew Johnson