Religion and political survival: The regional strategies of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar
Townshend, E. J. (2020). Religion and political survival: The regional strategies of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13927
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13927
Do Middle Eastern regimes use the contest between secularism and religion as a domestic authoritarian survival strategy, and if so, has this been projected into their regional policies in response to the ‘Arab Spring’? Post-Secular Theory has focused on the role of religion in domestic politics, neglecting the international and regional sphere, whilst also disproportionately focusing on the West, neglecting, for instance, the Middle East. To address this gap in the literature, this research looks at the domestic motivations for foreign policy, specifically for the purposes of regime survival in four key states: Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The investigation uses existing theories that consider regime survival strategies, such as Selectorate Theory, and religion and domestic politics, including Jonathan Fox’s Secular-Religious Competition Perspective. These have been adapted and applied to the Middle East, exploring their usefulness beyond providing explanations for domestic political behaviour. To test this, the co-optation patterns of sect and degree of secularism/fundamentalism within Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar was compared to the militias sponsored by each respective regime in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen as a means of discovering the existence of authoritarian survival strategies that use religion in the regional sphere. The research found that the case study states sponsored militias that matched the regime’s domestic winning coalition of support in terms of position on the secular-fundamentalist scale and sect. The secular-fundamentalist scale was created to rate the regimes and the militias in terms of religiosity. In doing so, it provides a tool for assessing the ongoing societal contest between secularism and religion, as outlined by Fox’s Secular-Religious Competition Perspective. The significance of this research is that it establishes the presence of the contest between secularism and religion, and also sectarianism, as regime survival strategies in the regional sphere, specifically in militia sponsorship in Yemen and Syria. Therefore, this research proposes the incorporation of an additional causal variable into explanations for international state behaviour in the Middle East: the desire of elites to stay in power and the subsequent regional externalisation of the domestic strategies they use to secure their rule.
The University of Waikato
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