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The Current Conflict between Sunni and Shia Essay

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Updated: Oct 31st, 2020

The conflict between Sunni and Shia has lasted much longer than predicted, mostly owing to the fact that besides certain ideological and religious differences, these two groups have been struggling for political influence (Gonzalez 26). Thus, it is highly important for them to choose an appropriate negotiation strategy that would allow not only resolving the conflict but also achieving maximum benefit for their groups. This is particularly challenging in the case of Sunni since power is monopolized by a few representatives of the Shia elite (Mansour). Thus, their primary concern in such negotiations is to promote their vision on how the country should be governed without exacerbating hostility existing between the parties.

One of the key factors that should be resolved before commencing negotiations is the lack of unanimity in the Sunni block. The problem is that there are currently no unified leaders or consistent identity that would guide the whole group through the existing political challenges. On the one hand, their philosophy, Salafi-Jihadism, suggests that only a legitimate authority (Islamic State) can take leadership in fighting non-Muslim countries with the ultimate goal to purify the Islamic community (York 67). On the other hand, the prevailing majority of group members now remain indifferent to the pursuit of this goal (Mansour). Thus, the preliminary piece of advice for Sunni is to solve their inner controversies and conflicts to be able to present their viewpoint to Shia clearly and concisely.

The second step is the actual choice of a negotiation style. There are five possible options, which include

  1. competing;
  2. collaborating;
  3. avoiding;
  4. accommodating;
  5. compromising (Promsri 38).

In order to select the most appropriate one, it is necessary to analyze all of them to make it clear why they suit or do not suit for negotiations with Shia.

The competing style is an “I win – you lose” approach. Although the Sunni group pursues its own ideological and political needs, Shia have waited too long for establishing their presence to give up power so easily. This makes the position of Sunni disadvantageous since it would be quite challenging for them to prove their amicable intentions. The conflict has demonstrated that narrow focusing on short-term gains can only aggravate hostility between the groups and pose new economic threats to the country.

The competing negotiation style, which was predominant in the Sunni-Shia relationships, made it possible for both groups to obtain the desired results only in a short-term perspective. However, it is strongly recommended to avoid it now that first attempts to reach a long-lasting piece are being made. Moreover, overusing competition will make it easier for Shia to prepare and turn the situation to their benefit since they would know what behavior to expect from their opponents.

This will lead to another deadlock instead of improving the situation. Sunni should make it clear for themselves whether their primary goal is to continue the struggle and win or to reach a compromise. Another argument against this option is that feeling victimized by the aggressive strategy of the opponent, Shia are likely to plot revenge, which will add less than zero value to Sunni.

Accommodating style is the opposite of the previous one (“You win – I lose”) since it values relationships as the major purpose of any negotiations. Application of this style for Sunni would mean that they should agree to give Shia what they want to get. This presupposes surrendering instead of making a reconciliation attempt. Some may claim that Shia have suffered a lot from Sunni, which implies that now it is the turn of the latter to make concessions. Indeed, despite being the predominant population group, Shia were prosecuted and even tortured by the government to exterminate them from the country. Yet, it would now be dangerous for Sunni to choose a completely opposite direction.

First and foremost, there is no trust established between the parties. Thus, overuse of concessions would strike Shia as suspicious. They may decide that Sunni are trying to go in for double dealing in order to lure them into reciprocation. This “Greek gift” would be perceived as Sunni’s attempt to gain something of a greater value. Repairing such tense relationships should be a step-by-step process. Otherwise, even the best intentions may backfire.

Another possible scenario is that Shia would perceive this choice of negotiation style as a sign of weakness of the opponent. In this event, Sunni would have to rely exclusively on Shia’ generosity and willingness to build harmonious relationships (which is rather doubtful). That is why it is strongly recommended to Sunni to exclude this negotiation style from the list of options.

The avoiding style (“I lose – you lose”) implies that neither of the negotiating parties obtains the desired outcome. If Sunni opted for this style, it would turn active aggression into passive. It is rather questionable, which one is more detrimental to the economic and political systems of the country. The menace of war, which can emerge at any moment, would keep citizens under constant pressure. In most general terms, avoidance is the absence of desire to start negotiations. Thus, instead of discussing the current problems directly, Sunnis and Shia would try to take revenge without knowing the intentions of the other party.

However, avoidance may be of great help if the relationships between the parties deteriorate. Excessive emotions make negotiations pointless since there is no rationality present. In this event, both Sunni and Shia need a time out to prepare for a discussion. This option is not currently applicable since the leaders of the blocks are in the midst of negotiations, trying to reconcile their interests (Al Saleh).

The compromising style (“I lose and win something – you lose and win something”) presupposes making concessions and sacrificing some of your goals in order to achieve more important ones and come out with a long-lasting peace. Although this style may be quite suitable for resolving the conflict between Sunni and Shia, there is a strong probability that it would make negotiations go down to haggling since none of the parties involved is now ready to agree to a partial win.

It may be effective in business relationships in the absence of a good rationale; yet, in national or international negotiations, this style can be applied only if a negotiator deals with those who can be entirely trusted to ensure that the right things are won and lost. In situations when one of the parties has no actual influence or power, opting for the compromising style is the only possible means to seal the deal. This cannot be applied to Sunni since they control a number of important territories.

That is why they should not compromise things that they absolutely want to obtain; this strategy would lead only to a temporary and shaky peace, making Sunni initiate another round of negotiations (in the best case) or go back to hidden or open hostility (following the most likely scenario). Moreover, compromising means that Shia would expect other concessions in the future since they are likely to take a more ambitious position. The possibility of choosing this style may be considered only under the condition that Sunni should be rewarded in another way. In this case, the exchange would be well-reasoned.

Thus, the most appropriate decision for Sunni would be to attempt using the collaborative style (“I win – you win”). Although it is typically confused with compromising, the difference is huge. The collaborative style implies making the utmost to ensure that all parties get what they want, thereby creating multiple values. Choosing this approach would allow Sunni to revert to any other style if the situation changes. The history of the conflict proved that old methods of its resolution were not effective.

Collaboration would help both blocks to come out with an innovative solution (despite the fact that more time is required for this). Furthermore, it would allow the leaders to gain a deeper insight into interests or motivations of the other side. However, Sunni must be careful to ensure that they are given the same level of transparency and detail as they give.

Within the framework of the collaborative style, the following peace-making methods can be advised:

  • Making emphasis on the necessity to unite in order to achieve economic stability in the region. The conflict between Sunni and Shia is aggravated by their excessive ambitions to take a leadership role. In fact, both blocks are powerless and poor, which necessitates cooperation to enable them to protect the country against its outer enemies. Sunni have long been associated with power and tyranny. Now, it is high time they did their best to take a more balanced, humble position in negotiations with Shia. Otherwise, economic consequences for the country will be detrimental.
  • Stressing similarities instead of differences. During the entire lifetime of the conflict, both parties have been trying to show how dissimilar they are. However, no one can tell the difference between them on the basis of their appearance, clothes, or knowledge. Now, Sunni should attempt to take the opposite direction and draw attention of Shia leaders to their common features. For instance, both parties worship the same God. Moreover, both Sunni and Shia follow Muhammad as God’s inheritor.
  • Proposing to unite with the purpose of putting an end to foreign (particularly US) interventions in local battles in the region. Sunni should emphasize the necessity to collaborate in order to develop alternative sources of energy to relieve the region of its excessive reliance on oil and gas. Religious quarrels may seem less significant when there is an outer threat of another country’s dominance.

In the event that negotiations are successful, the parties will unite to achieve their common goals without having to sacrifice their interests. Nevertheless, no matter how Sunni may rely on their negotiation style, propositions, and arguments, they should consider other scenarios and develop strategies to mitigate their negative outcomes. This can be done by using a more radical method described below.

It is well known that the conflict between Sunni and Shia is the one of authority. While the state is considered to be Shia-controlled, the northern part of it supports Sunni. Being dominant it this region, they are well aware of the fact that the most homogeneous areas of Iraq are the most stable ones since they are governed by local actors. That is why, if Sunni’s attempts to achieve productive cooperation fail, it would be reasonable for them to insist on being given a change for establishing their government in any autonomous region in exchange for accepting Shia government in Badhdad. Despite the fact that it will lead to a split within the country, it might be the only option for Sunni to establish their regime in case Shia are unwilling to make concessions or release the existing tension.

Thus, the analysis has revealed that in their position Sunni may either opt for compromising, do their utmost to achieve collaboration, or take a radical step of suggesting division (although this alternative may be unanticipated by the other party). The most general recommendations in any case are:

  • to prepare thoroughly for negotiations by finding and assessing all the available information concerning the other party;
  • to refuse of selective perception that currently makes Sunni focus exclusively on their own image, beliefs, assumptions, and goals;
  • to avoid becoming optimistically overconfident in success;
  • to pay attention to facts about Shia that were previously undervalued since they can give a key to the solution;
  • to restrain from attacking Shia’s position either in religion or in politics since the major goal Sunni presently pursue is to reconcile drastically different interests;
  • to acknowledge the worth of Shia and their right for self-identification.

Works Cited

Al Saleh, Omar. “Aljazeera. 2016. Web.

Gonzalez, Nathan. The Sunni-Shia Conflict: Understanding Sectarian Violence in the Middle East. Nortia Media Ltd, 2013. Google Books. Web.

Mansour, Renad. “Carnegie Middle East Center. 2016. Web.

Promsri, Chaiyaset. “Conference of the International Journal of Arts & Sciences, vol. 6, no. 2, 2013, pp. 35-45. Web.

York, Richard. Know Thy Enemy: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Lulu, 2015. Google Books. Web.

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