Sheikhs and the City: Urban Paths of Contention in Sidon, Lebanon
This article examines the rise and fall of the “Assir movement,” a neo-Salafist campaign led by a charismatic local sheikh who, after years of community activism, rose to prominence in the wake of the Syrian uprising (2011–present) protesting the Sunnis’ political decline and disempowerment. To understand the Assir movement’s popular appeal, it is necessary to examine the pathways of contention in specific urban contexts and the extension of Salafism to secondary cities such as Sidon, where Sheikh Ahmad Assir’s neo-Salafism became a political force and can be classified as a new social movement. Neo-Salafism combines populism with sectarianism, and this accounts for its widespread support after 2011, when the Syrian uprising increased Sunni-Shia tensions and shifted the locus of contentious politics from the capital, Beirut, to Sidon, a Sunni-majority city and the seat of the Assir movement. Ultimately, this led to an armed confrontation that crushed the movement, eroded its popular support, and was followed by an electoral defeat in which local elites reasserted control.
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