Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf - 9 / 3 / 2014 - 12:12 pm

Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf by  Laurence Louer illuminates the historical origins and present situation of militant Shia transnational networks by focusing on three key countries in the Gulf, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, whose Shia Islamic groups are the offspring of Iraqi movements. The reshaping of the area's geopolitics after the Gulf War and the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 have had a deep impact on transnational Shiite networks, pushing them to focus on national issues in the context of new political opportunities. For example, from being fierce opponents of the Saudi monarchy, Saudi Shiite militants have tended to become upholders of the Al-Sa'ud dynasty. Yet the question still remains: How deeply have these new beliefs taken root in Islamic society? Are Shiites Saudi or Bahraini patriots?

This remarkably nuanced study of Shiite politics in the Gulf region looks at the increasing visibility of Shiism there beyond the stereotyped narratives of sectarian conflict, minority identity and Iranian policy that are generally invoked to describe the character of Arab Shiism. Louer explains how these groups first penetrated local societies by adopting the networks of Shiite clergymen. She then describes the role of factional strife and the Iranian revolution of 1979 in defining the present background of Shiite Islamic activism in the Gulf monarchies.

She gives us a fascinating explanation of the related yet different historical processes that define Shiite politics and identity in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.’

Louer's book also considers the transformation of Shia movements in relation to central religious authority. While they strive to formulate independent political agendas, Shia networks remain linked to religious authorities (marja') who reside either in Iraq or Iran. This connection becomes all the more problematic should the marja' also be the head of a state, as with Iran's Ali Khamenei. In conclusion, Louer argues that the Shia will one day achieve political autonomy, especially as the marja', in order to retain transnational religious authority, begin to meddle less and less in the political affairs of other countries.

Book: Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf
Author: Laurence Louλr
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publishing Year: 2008
Pages: 326