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When a minority rules over a hostile majority : theory and comparison Haklai, Oded


With few exceptions, not enough attention has been paid to the phenomenon of ethnic minority rule over hostile majorities in the studies of ethnic conflict. This thesis attempts to account for the ability of ethnic minorities to rule over hostile majorities for continuous periods of time, and to devise a theory for the study of this phenomenon by comparing three cases: the Alawis in Syria, the Tutsis in Burundi and the Sunni Muslim minority in Iraq. The major argument of the thesis is that the phenomenon in question does not occur randomly. There are certain conditions that motivate an ethnic minority to seek political power, and to be able to attain it and maintain continuous rule despite the hostility of the majority. Naturally, each case has its particular characteristics, yet common patterns underlying minority rule over hostile majorities can be found, and an analytical framework can bJe devised. The examination of the three cases leads to the conclusion that minority rule has to be explained by examining how the identities of the minority and majority were formed, how they have been shaped throughout the history of interaction between the two groups, and how they have influenced the relationship between the groups. There is also a need to study how political entrepreneurs manipulate traditional markers and modern issues for instrumental gains. On this basis, it is possible to understand the political salience of the identities, the level of hostility and the reasons why the minorities seek political power. Attaining it or retaining it, and maintaining it for a continuous period of time is dependent on an authoritarian government structure, which includes, indispensably, considerable army involvement in politics. Persistent minority rule is also dependent on its ability to legitimize itself, primarily by creating a unified identity. Success in forming such a unified identity implies a decrease in the saliency of elements of identity that' distinguish between the groups, and ultimately a decrease in the level hostility. This allows the minority rule to persist. If, however, this "unified identity" does not have the desired outcome of mollifying the majority, the ruling minority can, and will, use its military monopoly of coercive power to subdue internal opposition.

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