It has long been argued in IR that differences in identity can be a source of conflict whereas convergence and similarity lead to cooperation. Nevertheless, empirical evidence from the Middle East has long defied this hypothesis. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which prides itself on being an Islamic model and claims Islamic leadership, has opposed the rise to power of Islamist movements in the Middle East during several historical periods. The talk will build on the growing literature on ontological security to explain how similarity between Saudi Islamic state identity and rising movements in the region has generated anxiety and identity risks for the Kingdom. These identity risks have shaped the Kingdom’s foreign policy during critical moments in the region and, hence, affected patterns of enmity and conflict in the Middle East.
May Darwich is Assistant Professor in IR of the Middle East at Durham University. Her main research interests are identity politics, security politics, and foreign policy in the international relations of the Middle East. Her research appeared in internationally renowned journals, such as Foreign Policy Analysis, the Journal of Global Security Studies, Democratization, Mediterranean Politics, International Relations, Global Discourse and in volumes on the international relations of the Middle East. She is the author of Threats and Alliances in the Middle East: Saudi and Syrian Policies in a Turbulent Region (Cambridge University Press, 2019).