In This Review

Shiism and Politics in the Middle East
Shiism and Politics in the Middle East
By Laurence Louër
Columbia University Press, 2012, 176 pp

Louer takes a close look inside Shiite international networks and the efforts to control them, a struggle that pits the official clergy against a group that Louer calls the effendi: lay leaders without religious credentials who nonetheless exercise influence in Shiite communities (Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is a good example). She notes that substantial resources are at stake, since marjas—religious leaders whose teachings and conduct are considered “worthy of emulation”—can claim one-fifth of a follower’s net income as a form of quasi-obligatory charity. The struggle is not only between the effendi and the clergy but also between both of those groups and the central Shiite authority represented by Iran’s supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Louer focuses on how these dynamics play out in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Kuwait. In her view, the trend is toward greater “domestification” of Shiite movements, at the expense of the central authority in Iran. Khomeini’s doctrine of wilayat al-faqih, or the rule of the Islamic jurist, has been accepted more in appearance than in reality.