World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


State and ethnicity in the Middle East (288) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: CERI Sciences Po (France)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Alain Dieckhoff & Laurence Louër

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Middle Eastern States have often a strong ethnic basis. Most of them indeed explicitely define themselves as embodiying a particular ethnic and religious identity. With the notable exception of Iraq since 2004, all the countries of the Arab League define themselves as “Arab” and grant Arab foreigners rights of which non-Arab foreigners are deprived. By the same token, Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people, and this self-definition gives the Jewish citizens rights of which the Arab citizens are deprived.
Of course, the link between the state and the ethno-cultural/religious "core nation" is not always modelled along the same pattern: sometimes the link is very tight, sometimes it is looser. A difference between the countries in this respect is the political regime: when the State operates in a democratic, or even semi-democratic, setting, a system of checks and balances makes it difficult for the State to blatantly assume its ethnicity; when it is authoritarian, it faces limited obstacles in assuming its ethnicity.
The panel will be organized around papers which either analyze the link between state and ethnicity or the way opposition/minority groups mobilize themselves around a "counter-ethnicity".

Chair: Alain Dieckhoff (Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) Sciences Po, Paris)

Paper presenter: Mark Tessler (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), "What Does It Mean to Be a ‘Muslim’ Country: How Do Ordinary Citizens in Muslim-Majority Arab Countries Think about This Question?”"
This paper draws upon original public opinion data collected in nationally representative surveys carried out in 10 Arab countries between 2002 and 2008. It first maps the different ways that ordinary citizens think about the place of Islam in the identity of their society and country. It then employs multivariate and two-level statistical analysis in an effort to identify both individual-level and the country-level attributes and experiences that help to explain why different people have different views about the role that Islam plays, and should play, in the social and political life of their country.

Paper presenters: Marie Joëlle Zahar & Joy Aoun (Université de Montréal), "Communalism and the confessional state: Reconsidering Lebanon's perennial chicken and egg problem"
Debate is currently raging in Lebanon over the country's readiness to tackle political deconfessionalization in accordance with the terms of the Ta'if agreement. Grasping the terms of the policy debate requires an analytical and theoretical understanding of the nature of ties between communal identities and state institutions. Using an analytical framework, we argue that specific features of Lebanon's political institutions play a major role in politicizing ethnicity in the country. The paper highlights two such features which are inherent to the current consociational system: the limited deterrence capability of the state and its limited ability to provide aggrieved groups with assurances that their grievances will be meaningfully addressed. Both features, we argue, foster a sense of insecurity that drives communities to seek 'a share of the pie' rather than consider the potential usefulness of overhauling the current Lebanese political formula. The paper concludes with recommendations to facilitate reasoned discussions of deconfessionalization in the current Lebanese political context.

Paper presenter: Laurence Louër (Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) Sciences Po, Paris), "Israeli Arabs and the Jewish Identity of the Israeli State"

The Arab citizens represent roughly 20% of the Israeli population. Since the 1990s, they put into question the identity of the state, aiming to transform it from a Jewish state to a “state of all its citizens”;. They also claim for themselves the status of “Palestinian indigenous national minority”. The aim of the presentation will be twofold. First, it will analyze the way the Israeli state, as a Jewish state, has dealt with its Arab minority, this in order to formulate some hypothesis about the way the Israeli state attempts to organize cultural difference. Second, this presentation will analyze the mechanisms behind the Arabs’ demand of dropping the Jewish identity of the state and their self-definition as a Palestinian minority. It will show that while these demands indicate an attempt at renewing ties with the Palestinians living on the other side of the Green Line, they are first and foremost the result of the reshaping of the Israeli political arena between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, which has led to the overall transformation of the ways ethnic groups mobilize in Israel.