Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Minorities in the Middle East: Ethnicity, Religion, and Support for Authoritarianism

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Minorities in the Middle East: Ethnicity, Religion, and Support for Authoritarianism

Article excerpt

During the Egyptian uprising of January 2011, many Coptic Christians participated in the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak, despite the Coptic Pope's longstanding support for the Mubarak regime. Indeed, Pope Shenouda III admonished against participating in the uprising, but many Christians joined protestors in Tahrir Square and formed a human chain around Muslim demonstrators during the Friday prayers (Tadros 2013). As the Egyptian transition unfolded, however, Copts' attitudes toward the transition grew more ambivalent. On one hand, the massacre of twenty-eight Coptic protestors at Maspero by Mubarak-era security forces in October 2011 vindicated the arguments of those who had actively opposed the regime. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood's swift consolidation of power in 2012, amid a surge of sectarian violence against Copts and continuing inaction by the security forces, stoked the fears of many Copts and bolstered the arguments of those who supported the military as a hedge against an Islamistdominated regime. Pope Tawadros II, who succeeded Pope Shenouda III in November 2012, publicly stated that in the presidential elections, he had voted for Ahmed Shafik, a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force under Hosni Mubarak (Tadros 2014, 209).

Like Egypt's Coptic Christians, Morocco's Berber community participated in the Moroccan protest movement of February 20, 2011, alongside Islamists, trade unionists, and secular youth. King Mohammad VI reacted swiftly to the demonstrations by enacting a new Constitution and holding elections. The new Constitution recognized Tamazight (the language of Morocco's Berber minority) as an official language and transferred some of the powers of the King to the Prime Minister. Mohammad VI's reforms took the wind out of the protest movement. Although Morocco did not fully democratize, it also did not undergo a reconsolidation of authoritarian forces, as Egypt did. Both the Islamist Justice and Development Party (JDP) and Berbers emerged as key beneficiaries of the reform process.

How do minorities position themselves during democratization reforms? This article examines the dilemmas that regime change poses for minorities in the Middle East and how different cleavages affect the preferences of minorities over regime type. The literature on authoritarianism in the Middle East has been largely silent on how ethnic politics affects authoritarian survival.1 This is surprising given that authoritarianism has been one of the most well-studied topics in recent scholarship on the Middle East (Bellin 2004; Brownlee 2007; Fish 2002; Lust-Okar 2005; Posusney and Angrist 2004). Yet, until the uprisings of 2011, which politicized ethnic identities exponentially, the study of authoritarian resilience has developed almost entirely without intersecting with the study of religious and linguistic diversity. The attitudinal literature on support for democracy in the Middle East has also ignored minority status as a potentially important variable in preferences about regime type. Rather, the focus of much of this literature has been on whether religiosity and the endorsement of a political role for religion affect support for democracy (Ciftci 2010; Jamal and Tessler 2008; Norris and Inglehart 2011; Tessler 2002a, 2002b). The central focus of the broader comparative politics literature on democratization, in turn, has been on class conflict (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006; Boix 2003; Luebbert 1987; Moore [1966] 1993; Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens 1992). Scholarship in this tradition has examined the configuration of class alliances that are conducive to democratic consolidation but has largely ignored the role of other cleavages for democratization.

Although the difficulty that identity cleavages pose for democracy has been recognized (Dahl 1971, 105-23; Linz and Stepan 1996), few scholars have ventured to propose arguments on how specific configurations of identity cleavages affect democratization processes. …

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