Houses built on sand

Violence, sectarianism and revolution in the Middle East

By Simon Mabon

Houses built on sand

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2646-7
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: February 2020
  • BIC Category: Politics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Security (National & International), POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Geopolitics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / Middle Eastern, Society & social sciences / International relations, Society & social sciences / Geopolitics, Society & social sciences / Society & culture: general, Middle East
  • Series: Identities and Geopolitics in the Middle East


The events of the Arab Uprisings posed an existential challenge to sovereign power across the Middle East. Whilst popular movements resulted in the toppling of authoritarian rule in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, other regimes were able to withstand these pressures. This book questions why some regimes fell whilst others were able to survive.

Drawing on the work of political theorists such as Agamben and Arendt, Mabon explores the ways in which sovereign power is contested, resulting in the fragmentation of political projects across the region. Combining an innovative theoretical approach with interviews with people across the region and beyond, Mabon paints a picture of Middle Eastern politics dominated by elites seeking to maintain power and wealth, seemingly at whatever cost. This, for Mabon, is a consequence of the emergence and development of particular visions of political projects that harness or marginalise identities, communities, ideologies and faiths as mechanisms designed to ensure their survival.

This book is essential reading for those interested in understanding why the uprisings took place, their geopolitical consequences, and why they are likely to happen again.


'A theoretically-informed and empirically-rich exploration of the impacts of the contestation of sovereign power on states, societies, identities and the regulation of time and space. A creative intellectual tour de force, one rarely encountered in studies of the contemporary Middle East'
Bassel Salloukh, Lebanese American University

'Situated at the nexus between political theory and Middle East Studies, Houses Built on Sand investigates the claims and mechanisms through which life is regulated in the Middle East. The theme of sovereignty and its relationship to political power is the anchor for this rigorously researched book that breaks new intellectual ground. An important and timely contribution, especially for those interested in a philosophical understanding of the turbulence and protest that continues to rock the Arab-Islamic world.'
Nader Hashemi, University of Denver, USA

'The politics of sectarian difference in the Middle East have been cast in many ways, but never with such rigor and heart as Houses Built on Sand. By examining sovereign power and its fragmentation, Mabon has constructed a comparative framework that is elastic enough to contain the myriad of local and national experiences with sectarian 'othering.' At the same time, the book connects developments across the region using cutting edge political theory to explain recent and devastating contestations between rulers and ruled, including the notion of the abandonment of the ruled by the rulers through such mechanisms as the formation of internal enemies along sect-differences. Meanwhile, displaced individuals find meaning and purpose in transnational communal networks, ramping up the potential for instability and violence, as well as rebirth and change. In this dynamic and important work, Mabon uncovers the role of agency in the forms and behavior taken by sovereign power. He shows us sovereignty's fundamental fragility in the wake of mass-mobilized frustration, and he helps us to reimagine a normative space in the Middle East where people's safety and security might someday come before grandiose political projects.'
Staci Strobl, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, USA

'At a moment in which political orders in the Middle East are under exceptional strain Mabon explores the effects of fragmented sovereignties on the political trajectories of states, societies, and communities in the Middle East. His account of the many ways in which competing claims to sovereignty, legitimacy, and authenticity manifest themselves across multiple political and social registers, often at great human cost, is eloquent, theoretically rich, and marvelously ambitious. Sweeping in its historical and geographic scope, Mabon's work is acute and urgent in calling our attention to the conditions that sustain violence, exclusion, and conflict in today's Arab world.'
Professor Steven Heydemann, Smith College, USA


1 The Politics of Sovereignty and Space
2 Letters and Declarations
3 Ink on Paper
4 The dawla and the umma
5 Building Beirut, Transforming Jerusalem and Breaking Basra
6 The People Want the Fall of the Regime
7 The Regime Fights Back
8 Houses Built on Sand
Conclusions: The End of the Dream
Select bibliography


Simon Mabon is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Director of the Richardson Institute at Lancaster University

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