In several accounts about the Sunni-Shia conflicts erupting in the Middle East (such as this one) the Sunnis are usually viewed as taking the side of a monarchy and the Shia the side of the rebels wanting some form of republic (Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, with Syria being an exception).

Are there any religious/historical reasons for this preference of a monarchy by Sunnis and a republic by Shias? Or is it just coincidence or a consequence of the Iranian revolution of the 70s and the Saudi Arabia/Iran "cold war" (as described in the previous link)?

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    Are you asking if there's something inherent in the views of Shia vs Sunni that predispose the state to be a monarchy vs. republic? Or between specific ethnic/social/national groups that happened to be Sunni (mostly Arabs, but not exclusively) vs Shia (mostly Persians and some others)?
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 16:04
  • @user4012 I'm asking about the first. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 16:13
  • the film you are referring is not accurate. e,g, in Tunisia it was not shia-sunni conflict, it was a conflict between monarch and people. + what destabilize middle east is western arms
    – user 1
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 16:28
  • Remember the comments are to suggest improvements, not for general discussion.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 17:28

2 Answers 2


If anything it is the other way round. The key political difference between Sunni and Shia Islam is the status of the family of the prophet.

In Shia Islam, God chose Ali, who was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and Muhammad's closest blood relative as the leader of Muslims after Muhammad. The leaders of Shia Islam claim a direct bloodline to Ali.

In Sunni Islam, following the guidance of Muhammad's actions in life, his father-in-law Abu Bakr was elected Caliph.

The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a caliph should be chosen by Muslims. Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from Muhammad's direct descendants.

However this applies to the Caliph, the leader of Islam. There is no widely recognised Caliph in Islam, on either the Shia or Sunni branches. The various Kings and Emirs of Islamic countries do not claim the Caliphate. The Leader of Iran doesn't either. The leader of Daesh claimed the caliphate, but this claim was not widely recognised.

As such there are many Kings and Emirs of Islamic countries, while other countries have a theocratic leader, and other are republics. There are a number of notable Sunni Monarchies, but other Sunni states (Egypt, Pakistan for example) are Republics.

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    +1. Note that of the countries in the region, the most powerful Suni nations (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) are monarchies, while the most powerful Shia nation (Iran) is not. Turkey (Sunni) is kind of in-between right now, but (arguably) moving toward monarchy.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 19:10
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    @T.E.D. Egypt is no monarchy! The last king was overthrown 1952.
    – klanomath
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 20:07
  • @klanomath - That's technically true. However, none of the successor states were particularly Democratic, outside of one or two very brief interludes.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 20:45
  • I realise that I have used at least four different spellings of the prophet's name here. That needs fixing.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:11
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    @JamesK For what it is worth, conventional romanizations of the Arabic name of the Prophet differ in regional dialects of the English language and have changes over time despite the Arabic correct source remaining the same the whole time. Consistency is nice, but there isn't truly a right answer in the English language.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:08

There are long traditions of both Sunni monarchs and Shia monarchs in various countries. And some countries that claim to be "republics" are actually constitutional monarchies. For example:

Syria's current "President" is an Alawite, who is aligned with Shia factions in Lebanon and Iran. But in practice, Syria is a constitutional monarchy, with dynastic succession of the "President".

Iran is predominantly Shia. It had a long history of monarchs (Shahs) before the Iranian Revolution established a republic.

Turkey is predominantly Sunni. It had a long history of monarchs (Ottoman Emperors) before Mustafa Kemal established a republic.

Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Tunisia are predominantly Sunni, and are currently republics.

Brunei, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and many other Sunni countries have long (and continuing) monarchies.

  • I would nitpick to note that many of the monarchial dynasties aren't really all that old or long (many of the countries of the Middle East are the product of post-WWI diplomacy between the colonial powers that prevailed in WWI with little local input and the dynasties are often younger than the U.S.A. as a constitutional republic.)
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:11
  • @ohwilleke -- The ruling families of Riyadh and Kuwait have ruled their respective capitals off-and-on since the eighteenth century. The dynasties in Brunei and Morocco have ruled far longer. At times they ruled protectorates or vassal states, but they were rulers (or rulers-in-exile).
    – Jasper
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 3:22
  • And, ruling since the 18th century isn't really all that long and has involved quite varied territories. Modern Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti boundaries are much more recent with lots of the territory previously ruled by others conquered by the existing dynasties. For example, the current KSA dynasty really starts with Ibn Saud in 1902. Before then he has roots in past kings but was so dispossessed that his line ceased to be royal for much of the interim period.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 3:51
  • @ohwilleke There are very, very few monarchies in the world with an unbroken line of rulership older than the US Republic.
    – Yakk
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 15:09
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    And for Andorra, there are two co-princes but they are not part of a ruling dinasty; one of them is the President of France (a position that is not inherited) and the other is the Bishop of Urgell (who not only is not an hereditary position, but also it is most likely that the person holding that position will not make many public claims of parenthood if he becomes a father). Again, it will depend on your definition of unbroken.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 7:31

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