Power-Sharing in Multi-Ethnic Societies of the Middle East

Prof. Dr. Henner Fürtig
2012 - 2016

Common Space Initiative (CSI), Beirut, Lebanon



Research Questions
The research project stems from the observation that some of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, namely, those in Bahrain and Syria, slipped into bloody crackdowns and/or civil wars. In other countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq, there were hardly any protests. In all four countries we find multiple ethnic-sectarian divisions within society. Yet, whereas Lebanon and Iraq have implied power-sharing arrangements, the other two (Bahrain and Syria) are mainly mono-ethnic autocracies. The research questions are as follows:

  • What impact do ethnic cleavages have on social, political and economic relations in the divided societies of the East Arab countries? How do the four countries under investigation differ in how they deal with this fragmentation, and how do they influence each other?
  • Are there any options and chances for power-sharing agreements that take the ethnic divide into consideration and at the same time help the fragmented communities to bridge the gaps between them?
  • How can EU stakeholders support such processes as external mediators and supporters of institution building?

Contribution to International Research
While quite a lot of research has been carried out on the two existing power-sharing arrangements in Lebanon and Iraq, the ongoing debates on their reform or even their abolishment in these two countries as well as the possibility of transferring such power-sharing arrangements to Syria and Bahrain have not yet been investigated. The current project is innovative in this respect.

Further innovative elements include the project’s comparative design and its aim of investigating future options for such reforms and arrangements for all four countries. The aim is to broaden the understanding of “security” towards a comprehensive approach that incorporates “mutual security”, instruments of conflict moderation and conflict prevention.

Research Design and Methods
In several steps, the project investigates the history and current situation of these divided societies, as well as their political structures. It also analyses the existing constitutions and laws, as well as the reforms and alternatives under debate, primarily in comparison to the consociationalist (Lijphart, Lehmbruch) and the centripetalist approach (Horowitz).

Preliminary Results
In a series of workshops, participants identified several similar or comparable experiences between the cases under investigation. They also focused on the dynamics between the four countries and how the positive and negative experiences of each country influence the power-sharing debate in the sub-region. Deeper research has been done in the conflict structure and the sectarian framing of the four societies Special emphasis has been put on ongoing debates among oppositional groups and the official regime discourse about a reform of existing and the introduction of new power-sharing arrangements.