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«Justifying Power: Ruling Group Dominance and Regime Justification in Multi-Ethnic States By MA SSACHUISS INSTJUTE OF TECHNOLOGY Deborah Rachel Berman ...»

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Justifying Power:

Ruling Group Dominance and Regime Justification in Multi-Ethnic States



Deborah Rachel Berman OCT 31201 B.A., Politics


Brandeis University, 2006


Submitted to the Department of Political Science in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Masters of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology September 2011 0 2011 Deborah Rachel Berman. All rights reserved.

The author hereby grants to MIT permission to reproduce and to distribute publicly paper and electronic copies of this thesis document in whole or in part in any medium now known or hereafter created.


Signature of the Author.....

Department of Political Science September 9, 2011 C ertified by

Roger Petersen

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The current but inconsistent upheaval in the Middle East suggests variations in what will topple regimes, and thus in how regimes have laid the groundwork to remain in power. This thesis examines variation in a social condition, relative dominance of a ruling ethnic group in a multi-ethnic society, as the source for systematic variations in how a mono-ethnic regime will justify its rule to the general population.

This thesis argues that the ruling group's relative dominance, defined as its relative percentage to other groups in the population, drives a regime's justifying argument to be either rooted in the presence of universally lauded institutions (democratic-institutional), the regime's demonstrated record of economic and social developmental achievements (economic-social developmental), or the regime's ability to further the interests of an identity common to itself and the population at large (identificational). Relative dominance, it is contended, affects regime behavior by influencing the functioning of two mechanisms: the degree to which a regime can tolerate public accountability and the extent to which it needs to reduce the salience of ethnicity in order to endure. The thesis hypothesizes that the former decreases and the latter increases as dominance decreases.

The thesis incorporates quantitative and qualitative analyses to measure and evaluate relationships between relative dominance and justifying arguments. It demonstrates the existence of relationships between dominance and regimes' justifying arguments by means of content analysis of senior leaders' speeches in eight Sunni-dominant, Shi'ite-subordinate countries--Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein), Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Case studies of one high-dominance country (the UAE), one medium-dominance (Yemen), one low-dominance (Iraq), and one outlier (Bahrain) then illustrate the speculated mechanisms in action.

D. Berman -- 2 In a world characterized by democratic norms and global advocacy of human rights, it is surprising that we should still see a number of states exclusively ruled by minority ethnic groups. Less surprising is that is that many of these states are currently experiencing popular unrest over the nondemocratic nature of the ruling regimes. That these regimes managed for so long to balance the rational imperative of staying in power with that of international acceptance, necessary in the highly globalized world, raises the question of the different strategies that mono-ethnic regimes in multiethnic societies use to justify their rule to their population in the first place. The following pages explore that very question, demonstrating that the relative percentage of the ruling ethnic group to other groups in the population influences the justifying argument the regime will employ to lay groundwork for its endurance over time.

I. Justification-How, What, Why This paper takes as a starting point that all regimes that are not securely restrained by sincerely democratic institutions will seek to remain in power. In doing so, their strategic options can be seen as arrayed on a continuum, with pure repression on one end and democratization on the other. However, the strategies at both termini are suboptimal for a rational mono-ethnic regime seeking to retain power.

While these regimes often make ample use of repressive tactics to consolidate and reinforce their rule, repression alone is inadequate to build a foundation for longevity for two reasons. First, in today's highly interconnected world, it is necessary to assume that all regimes strive for some degree of While most of the regimes discussed here incorporate a few members of non-dominant groups in their regime as a means of co-optation, the low status these individuals are generally permitted (albeit with exceptions) allows us to still justifiably call the regimes mono-ethnic.

D. Berman -- 3 international recognition, if only the lack of total rejection. The risks are overthrow from either within or without. As Etel Solingen notes, even regimes that implement autarkic policies to reinforce their domestic popularity ultimately strive for international prestige to validate such decisions. 2 As to risk of foreign intervention, recent and more distant history are both peppered with demonstrations of the danger of being a pariah state.

A strategy of pure repression is also suboptimal because it is costly--overall and in particular for a mono-ethnic regime. As Weber and Rousseau both observe, generating obedience by compulsion not only requires an unrealistic amount of resources, but is also unlikely to translate into a stable basis for rule. 3 Moreover, pure repression is particularly high-risk for mono-ethnic regimes, where violence is performed not simply by the state against the population but by one ethnic group against another, reinforcing the salience of ethnicity and with it the fundamental illegitimacy of the regime. This creates a cyclical trend toward more repression and, as a result, ever increasing instability for the regime. As such, while repression will inevitably play a role in the consolidation of an exclusive authoritarian regime, relying on repression alone to sustain itself in power is suboptimal for an ethnic regime. This presumably becomes more so as the relative size of the ethnic group decreases.

If pure repression is a suboptimal strategy for monoethnic regimes seeking to stay in power, democratization is equally so unless the country is fragmented into many ethnic groups (where no one group is larger than the minority in charge of the autocratic regime. If other ethnic groups are significantly larger, the proportion of power the existing autocratic regimes's ethnic group would hold would give it less basis for influence that if it held exclusive power. Needless to say, democratizing in one way or another is a worse option for a regime the smaller the relative size of its ethnic group. And of course, democratization is not in the interests of the ruling clique, who might lose power to other

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D. Berman -- 4 members of their ethnic group as well as to rival ethnic groups.

With neither pure repression nor democratization a good option, ethnic minority regime seeking to survive must explore other options to obtain compliance from the population at large, ideally planting roots for such compliance in a sense of rightfulness surrounding the regime's exclusive rule.

In other words, the regime wants to make people comply because they believe they should. They may believe they should obey because it is morally right or because it is simply more beneficial than disobeying.4 They will therefore try to justify their rule to the population, arguing to obtain the compliance they seek.

This idea of a regime's justifying argument is closely related to the concepts of legitimacy and legitimation; these are the terms in which the idea is generally treated in existing literature. While there is certainly no dearth of literature on regime legitimation, there is very little that seeks to establish systematic connections between the challenges to a regime's survival and its choice of argument to legitimate, or justify, itself. Exceptions often focus on single cases, such as Peter Ludz' study of regime legitimation in the former German Democratic Republic, or on the relationship between legitimation and a particular ideology, most often communism. 5 Indeed, beyond suggesting that regimes for whom legitimation by democratization is not an option possess pressing legitimation challenges, existing literature gives little attention to the agency of regimes in choosing a legitimation strategy, as a set of

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Scholars who delve deeply into the question of legitimacy and the individual-level motives behind obedience often distinguish these two motivations. I accept both, focusing on the common denominator of obeying out of a belief that obedience is good.

5 Peter Ludz, "Legitimacy in Divided Nation: The Case of the German Democratic Republic," in Bogdan Denitch (ed.), Legitimation ofRegimes: InternationalFrameworksforAnalysis (London: Sage Publications) 1979. Studies on Communist regimes' legitimation strategies include Stephen White, "Economic Performance and Communist Legitimacy," World Politics 38:3 (Apr 1986), and the contributions in T.H. Rigby and Ferenc Feher (ed.), Political Legitimation in Communist States (New York: St. Martin's Press) 1982.

For an overview of literature on legitimation, see Denitch 1979.

D. Berman -- 5 by the demands of the population, in line with the long-standing "pluralist" paradigm of politics. 7 Even the more modem version of the pluralist paradigm, which abandons its predecessor's "passive and benign" view of the state, fails to acknowledge that the state can be more than simply reactive to the population; it "retains [pluralism's] central insight that politics is best described as a process through which the state responds to the diverse viewpoints and concerns of individual citizens." 8 While the demands of its citizenry indeed influences a regime's legitimation strategy, the state's prerogative for action as an autonomous, rational actor seeking to ensure its survival is generally undervalued.9 This paper seeks to contribute to the literature on legitimation strategies not only by illuminating the agency of regimes in choosing them, which in turn suggests that the choice of justifying argument follows from the survival threats a regime faces, but also by giving reason to believe that systematic relationships can be determined between the level of threat to a regime's survival and the argument it will choose. Indeed, as the next section will discuss, mono-ethnic regimes in multi-ethnic societies possess a particular need to justify their rule.

mono-ethnic Regimes' Need to Justify: Theoretical Approaches Survival Challenges for Regimes in Ranked Multi-ethnic Societies Multi-ethnic states yield unique challenges for ruling mono-ethnic regimes, which appear through mechanisms of perpetuating salience of ethnicity and infusing ethnic divisions with hostility.

These challenges can be gleaned from the existing literature on multi-ethnic states, specifically from the (overlapping) literatures on intergroup relations and institutional design in multi-ethnic societies.

Popular pluralist works include Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (London:

Saunders and Otley) 1835;

Harold Laski, Authority in the Modern State (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1919; and, among more modem works, Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Oppositionand Participation (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1971.

8 Bruce Gilley, Right to Rule (New York: Columbia University Press) 2009, 61.

9 Gilley, whose work focuses on the sources of legitimacy and foreign-policy implications of a regime's level of it, corroborates this point.

D. Berman -- 6 The former establishes that the general dominance of one group over another, all else equal, encourages salience of ethnic identities, which not only increases the need for repression when the dominant group is a minority but also impedes the successful construction or evocation of a collective identity centered around the regime. Following on Frederik Barth's discussion of the boundaries between ethnic groups as constructed, varying, and significant, Michael Banton argued that the level of privilege a group has vis-a-vis others and the exclusivity of the group together determine the character of other groups in competition, as well as the overall nature of relations between the various groups.10 He specifically notes that if an exclusive group in a position of privilege decides to retain the hard boundary between them and other groups, they are "likely to develop images of themselves and of outsiders that will justify such policies." Meanwhile, people who feel themselves excluded are "likely to fight back, organizing to pursue their objectives, and developing an image of themselves which counterbalances the implication that they are unworthy of belonging to the privileged group," thereby developing a "group consciousness" around their group." In other words, Banton argues that the establishment of a dominant ethnic "in-group" begets the creation of cohesive "out-groups," thus reinforcing and perpetuating rigid intergroup boundaries. 12 As a result, ethnicity remains salient, perpetuating the perception of illegitimacy of any mono-ethnic regime and thereby the challenge to its survival.

Horowitz similarly argues that "ranked" ethnic systems are likely to perpetuate hostility and division in a multi-ethnic society. The mechanism by which it occurs, he argues, is a sense of selfworth that derives strongly from perceptions of one's group's self-worth, which is damaged in a ranked system in which the group is subordinate. Ethnic competition results, because people aspire to belong '0 Michael Banton, Ethnic and Racial Competition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1983.

" ibid, 126.

This goes to the logic of social identity theory. For a good discussion, see Rupert Brown, "Social Identity Theory: Past Achievements, Current Problems, and Future Challenges," EuropeanJournal ofSocial Psychology 30:6 (Nov 2000).

D. Berman -- 7 to a group with a favorable comparative evaluation. 13 Not only does ethnicity remain salient as a result, but society is likely to become tense and conflictual as a consequence of enduring salience and legitimation of the regime is therefore likely to become even harder.

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