An ancient religious divide is helping fuel a resurgence of
conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim countries. Struggles between Sunni and
Shia forces have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of
the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures
in a number of tense Gulf countries. Growing sectarian clashes have also
sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses a threat beyond
Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t
explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these
conflicts, but it has become one prism by which to understand the underlying
tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi
Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their
ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance
between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria,
Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
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