This Peace Brief, one of a five-part series on sectarianism in the Middle East, analyzes the regional sectarianism and dynamics related to the Syrian conflict.


  • The Syrian conflict’s internal dynamics have reshuffled regional alignments alongside unprecedentedly clear-cut sectarian dividing lines; this has often occurred against the preferences of regional state actors − including Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • Foreign states have generally adopted expedient policies that followed sectarian patterns for lack of alternatives.
  • Iran bears significant responsibility for exacerbating the conflict’s sectarian character at the regional level.
  • There is no such “diplomatic shortcut” to regional appeasement; it is the domestic Syrian deadlock that must be broken in order to alleviate sectarian tensions across the Middle East, not the opposite.

About This Brief

Thomas Pierret is a lecturer in Contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh. He has written on the issue of sectarianism and the role of Islamic forces in the Syrian revolution, and is the author of Religion and State in Syria and The Sunni Ulama from Coup to Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2013).” This Peace Brief is one in a five-part USIP series on sectarianism in the Middle East.

Related Publications

James Mattis: Yemen Needs a Truce Within 30 Days

James Mattis: Yemen Needs a Truce Within 30 Days

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

By: USIP Staff

Secretary of Defense James Mattis yesterday urged combatants in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi faction, to negotiate a cease-fire in that war within 30 days while speaking to diplomats, military officers and conflict-resolution specialists at the U.S. Institute of Peace. In a webcast conversation moderated by former national security advisor and USIP Chair Stephen J. Hadley, Mattis also discussed global security challenges facing the United States—from Russia and China, to North Korea—cybersecurity and the need for the developed world to help fragile states improve their governance and address the root causes of extremism.

Civilian-Military Relations; Global Policy

Mona Yacoubian on the State of Play in Syria

Mona Yacoubian on the State of Play in Syria

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

By: Mona Yacoubian

Mona Yacoubian discusses the state of play in Syria ahead of important withdrawal deadlines this week for removing heavy weapons from Idlib province. Yacoubian also discusses the waves of migration forced by the crisis, noting that 2018 has been the worst year to date for internally displaced Syrians; and the recent news that U.S. special operations forces are likely to remain in the country indefinitely to prevent a possible re-emergence of ISIS.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Mona Yacoubian on Syria

Mona Yacoubian on Syria

Thursday, August 9, 2018


As the Assad regime consolidates power across Syria, Mona Yacoubian says that regime change is increasingly unlikely seven years into the civil war. But, the conflict remains complex, as the U.S. and coalition forces continue to work to eradicate remnants of ISIS and Israel becomes increasingly concerned over Iran’s military presence in neighboring Syria.

Violent Extremism; Global Policy

View All Publications