Iran also has a similar proportional breakdown, except it has a Shia instead of Sunni majority. This suggests the religious demographic breakdown is not necessarily a deterministic factor to peace. Similarly, there are differing peace levels for countries where Sunni and Shia have similar proportions of a population. Bahrain is significantly more peaceful than other countries with a similar proportional Sunni/Shia split such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. There are many relatively peaceful countries which have a significant proportion of Sunni and Shia.
However, it is important to note that based on a perception survey from Pew Research the Sunni and Shia divide is considered significant by Muslims with 73% of countries with significant numbers of Muslims believing that friction between religious groups is a moderately or very big problem for their country. Undoubtedly, sectarian violence has been a major feature of armed conflict in the Middle East today. This is evidenced by the fact that when countries with majority Muslim populations have engaged in armed conflict it is generally civil or inter-religious conflict. Indeed, the twenty-first century has not been marked by the clash of civilisations but rather intra-group conflict. Of the 15 armed conflicts motivated in part by Islamist groups in 2013, all but 5 occurred in countries where Muslims were in the majority.
Religious restrictions do not correlate very strongly with peace at only 0.24, whereas religious hostilities do at 0.61. This suggests that for the majority of Muslim countries government restrictions towards religion has less of an impact on peace than religious hostilities do. 70% of Muslim-majority countries are authoritarian regimes, with 23% hybrid regimes. There are only three flawed democracies, and no full democracies. As such it is unsurprising that Muslim-majority countries have high levels of government restrictions.
The Pillars of Peace provide an insight into what features differentiate the peace performance of countries with high levels of Sunni and Shia. Three of the 8 Pillars of Peace correlate with the GPI for the most Muslim countries.
- Well-Functioning Government
- Good Relations with Neighbors
Refers to the relations between individuals and communities as well as to cross-border relations. Countries with positive external relations are more peaceful and tend to be more politically stable, have better functioning governments, are regionally integrated and have low levels of organized internal conflict.
- Low Levels of Corruption
In societies with high corruption resources are inefficiently allocated, making business inefficient and often leading to a lack of funding for essential services. The resulting inequality can lead to civil unrest and in extreme situations can be the catalyst for more violence. Low levels of corruption, by contrast, can enhance business confidence and trust in institutions, which in turn helps to create informal institutions that enhance peace.