The international sources of prejudice against Shi‘a in the Middle East and North Africa: Original survey evidence from Morocco

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Abstract

The increasing sectarianization of the international relations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a defining feature of the region’s contemporary politics. Iran has sought to increase its influence among Shi‘i populations of foreign countries, while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes have moved to curtail it. In heterogeneous and polarized MENA societies, like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where the Shi‘a constitute a sizable proportion of the population and compete for political power, it is natural to presume that sectarianization likely increases tension and prejudice against the Shi‘a. Yet, little is known about homogenous MENA societies, where the Shi‘a exist as an infinitesimal, uninfluential minority that does not seek political power. This topic is examined using an original, nationally-representative survey of 2,000 respondents in Morocco. We find that about 59 per cent of individuals express interpersonal prejudice against Moroccan Shi‘a, expressing discomfort at the prospect of having a Shi‘i neighbour. Such prejudice is counter-intuitive, given that Moroccan Shi‘a constitute a miniscule minority–less than.1 per cent of the population. We investigate three hypotheses concerning the sources of anti-Shi‘i prejudice, which locate them in social marginalization, religious beliefs and practices, and views about regional politics. The first two hypotheses are drawn from the existing literature, whereas the third is our unique theoretical contribution. Our results, which find support for the connection between individuals’ views about regional politics and anti-Shi‘i prejudice, advance scholarly understanding of religious diversity in the MENA, showing how international developments can trickle down into interpersonal relations to hinder the acceptance and tolerance of sectarian minorities.

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Buehler, M., & Schulhofer-Wohl, J. (2021). The international sources of prejudice against Shi‘a in the Middle East and North Africa: Original survey evidence from Morocco. Mediterranean Politics. https://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2021.1974198

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