In the 5 years following the Arab Uprisings, it is apparent that the Middle East and Islamic world are undergoing a profound sociopolitical reconfiguration. The rise of armed resistance groups and the clash of nationalisms between secular and religious movements have only served to undermine regional stability and deepened the fragmentation of the social cohesion. As a consequence, many Arab countries are immersed in a process of counterrevolution and experience deep cleavages. A number of these have been categorized as sectarian in nature, between Sunni and Shi’a, yet this article seeks to show that the term requires broader intellectual development to understand contemporary events. To this end, it engages with the term by looking at the rise of Islamist groups and their evolution across the twentieth century, to stress that socioeconomic contexts are also important in shaping the emergence of groups that are described as sectarian in nature. From this position, we are better placed to understand the fluid nature of domestic and geopolitical change across the Middle East and Islamic world.