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COVID-19 Opinion: 'The Coronavirus Is Exacerbating Sectarian Tensions in the Middle East'

The emergence of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to intensifying sectarian discrimination in the Middle East, as many cases have been traced back to the holy city of Qom, Iran. Qom is a central site in Shi'a practice, part of a pilgrimmage route undertaken by millions of clerics and pilgrims every year. 

Sunni-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have tightened restrictions on a politically-marginalised Shi'a minority in recent years. It seems the spread of the pandemic has 'amplified anti-Shi'ite prejudice and discrimination'. 

In addition, Iran's slow response to the virus has led to international condemnation, especially from neighbours Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Toby Matthiesen, DPIR Associate and Sir Adam Roberts Senior Research Fellow in the International Relations of the Middle East at St Antony's College, has analysed the impact of coronavirus and its influence on relations in the Middle East for Foreign Affairs. He reaches the conclusion that, 'From a security perspective as well as a humanitarian one, the coronavirus crisis in the Middle East is shaping up to be a crisis of epic proportions.'


Read the full article on the Foreign Affairs website.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic the department has decided to share opinion and blog pieces written by members of the faculty, who are bringing their unique research perspectives to engage with the big questions of the day. The views expressed within these articles do not represent the department’s official view, instead they shine a light on the intellectual plurality of our diverse community of academics and scholars.

Dr Toby Matthiesen is Sir Adam Roberts Senior Research Fellow in the International Relations of the Middle East