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 Sectarian Neoliberalism: Regional Dynamics and Social Transformations 

Rima Majed


While the literature often refers to Chile as the first ‘experiment’ of neoliberalism, this research proposes that neoliberal experiments had started to develop long before in the Arab region, specifically in Lebanon. Departing from this point and thinking more closely about the trajectories of neoliberal experiences throughout different regions – in varying scales and temporalities, and with different effects on space and spatiality; I develop the concept of ‘Sectarian Neoliberalism’ as a theoretical framework to approach the relationship between identity politics and neoliberalism in the Arab region. More specifically, I deploy this conceptual framework to reflect on the dialectical relationship between revolution and counter-revolution in the Arab region since 2011. Two main approaches have dominated most studies that looked at the regional dynamics in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The first approach focused on geopolitics from an identity politics perspective related to sectarianism with little focus on its political economy and its capitalist and neoliberal nature; while a second approach focused on political economy often overlooking the sectarian dynamics or completely rejecting the existence of sectarianism – or more accurately sectarianization. This paper attempts to critically approach the sectarian question at the regional level while centering on a political economy approach. It theorizes for the concept of “sectarian neoliberalism” as an approach to understanding the structures and dynamics in the region beyond the focus on either its sectarian nature or its neoliberal nature as two separate spheres. It builds on an understanding of sectarian capitalism akin to theories of racial capitalism and adopts an intersectional analysis that considers that sectarianism and neoliberalism feed into each other in order to uphold and reproduce state structures and geopolitical power dynamics, and regional imperialisms.


Rima Majed is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies Department at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Her work focuses on the fields of social inequality, social movements, sectarianism, conflict, and violence. Dr. Majed has completed her PhD at the University of Oxford where she conducted her research on the relationship between structural changes, social mobilization, and sectarianism in Lebanon. She was a visiting fellow at the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University in 2018/19. Dr. Majed is the author of numerous articles and op-eds. Her work has appeared in several journals, books and platforms such as Social Forces, Mobilization, Routledge Handbook on the Politics of the Middle East, Middle East Law and Governance, Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East, Global Dialogue, Idafat: The Arab Journal of Sociology, Al Jumhuriya, OpenDemocracy, Jacobin, Middle East Eye, and Al Jazeera English. She is also the co-editor of the upcoming book The Lebanon Uprising of 2019: Voices from the Revolution (I.B. Taurus).