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The Dynamics and Consequences of Power-Sharing in the Middle East

Panel X-19, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
Power-sharing arrangements have become a common tool of conflict management in a number of Middle Eastern contexts where group-level divisions are salient. In the aftermath of conflict, power-sharing can (re)-incorporate key actors into the state, mitigate damaging competition, and ensure group-level representation in different realms of governance. In some cases, power-sharing has been shown to lower the likelihood of conflict recurrence – but its track record in this outcome and in improving the quality of governance is mixed. Certain features of power-sharing, which may be more or less present in these distinct types, may prevent conflict but facilitate unproductive gridlock that inhibits other important governance functions. In other cases, power-sharing agreements may work effectively in the short term, but lack the flexibility necessary to deal with exogenous shocks or shifts in group boundaries and definitions. Further complicating analysis, power-sharing agreements are almost always endogenous to the nature of political conflicts that precede their adoption, making causal estimation of their effects particularly difficult. Conversely, power-sharing also has the potential to precipitate episodes of protest and contention, particularly in locales where it has become associated with elite predation and corruption. This panel draws on a wide range of empirical and theoretical approaches to uncover when, why, and to what end power-sharing constitutes an effective governance tool. Two papers in this panel touch upon citizen-led protest movements against ethnic power-sharing, looking comparatively across the Lebanese, Iraqi, and Bosnian cases. Two other papers assess the efficacy of power-sharing, in Lebanon and from a cross-national comparative perspective, looking at the provision of public goods and the rule of law. A final set of papers examine the durability of power-sharing institutions in Iraq and Lebanon, providing novel analysis of the role of time and informality in perpetuating elite pacts even as they fail to deliver on core citizen demands.
Political Science
  • Power-sharing arrangements are a common mode of conflict management in the aftermath of civil war. Prior work suggests that such arrangements lessen the likelihood of conflict recurrence while having deleterious effects on the quality of governance, particularly with regard to public goods and other social welfare provision. Power-sharing arrangements also vary widely in nature in terms of the degree of flexibility they afford to identitarian coalition construction (i.e. corporate vs. liberal arrangements), the branches of government in which they mandate the sharing of power, and the other institutional arrangements with which they are paired (e.g. decentralization, federalism, and/or foreign guarantorship). In this paper, we will use data collected on post-civil war power-sharing and public goods provision collected between 1945 and 2007 to assess which varieties of power-sharing produce better post-conflict governance. We will test several core hypotheses, including (1) that split executive arrangements lead to institutional deadlock inhibiting public goods provision and (2) that fiscal decentralization facilitates public goods provision, particularly with regard to local public goods. Our findings aim to complicate the power-sharing debate by describing which specific institutional arrangements are shown to prevent conflict recurrence while not prohibitively undermining elite collective action.
  • Co-Authors: Melani C. Cammett
    Institutionalized power-sharing is considered the best chance for divided societies to sustain peace, but there is a widespread consensus on its negative implications for good governance and public service delivery. Institutions and parties associated with sectarian power-sharing came under immense pressure lately in the Middle East, when widespread protests erupted against sectarian political elites (empowered by power-sharing institutions) in Iraq and Lebanon beginning from the end of the 2010s. Youth played important roles in these movements as they were more likely to be against sect-based institutions and power-sharing. In this context, we explore the determinants and conditions of support for and protests against power-sharing in Lebanon. Using a survey experiment with the youth in Lebanon, we test whether priming on certain perceived benefits (inclusive distribution of state resources and maintenance of peace and security) or harms (corruption among the political elite and decreased security) makes it more likely for young people to sign a petition against power-sharing. We find that the Lebanese youth are almost equally divided in their support for and protest against the current power-sharing regime in the country. While the secular youth aims to upend the system, youth which has perceived connections with the religious and political elite are against its demise. Surprisingly, priming on the potential security benefits of power-sharing makes the youth more likely to protest the current system. Additional data and analyses suggest that this security benefit argument (widely used by the sectarian political elite) makes the youth feel even more alienated from the sectarian power-sharing system, and paradoxically encourages them to protest it. The contributions of the paper are manifold: (1) We explore the micro-foundations of power-sharing - rather than the macro-dynamics and effects of this set of institutions; (2) we systematically assess how different articulated justifications for and critiques of this system shape popular support for it; (3) we look at how distinct components of the youth population envision this system that has shaped and will continue to shape their lives; and (4) last but not least, we show that a system that has so obviously failed the population and that scholars critique so vehemently actually enjoys genuine popular support.
  • Quantitative studies suggest that power sharing institutions promote the emergence of the rule of law in postwar states (Hartzell and Hoddie 2019). On this view, then, and by enhancing ‘the security of actors who constitute part of the apparatus of the state’ and providing ‘a means of checking and balancing government power’ (Hartzell and Hoddie 2019: 643-644), power sharing measures help promote the rule of law – operationalized here as judicial independence. Granular evidence from postwar Lebanon suggests otherwise, however. This paper reconstructs the process by which the judiciary was remade in postwar Lebanon. It then examines the role of the judiciary in 1) the investigation into the 4 August 2020 port explosion and 2) the systemic crisis of the banking sector after the 2019 protests. Both steps help show how power sharing in postwar Lebanon was deployed to preclude any form of accountability and subsequently the emergence of the rule of law. The paper’s argument carries broader theoretical implications: is the variance in the impact of power sharing institutions on the rule of law in postwar contexts a consequence of the type of power sharing deployed, or, alternatively, the different state forms into which power sharing institutions are inserted? Evidence for the paper is sourced from personal interviews with a number of legal experts, plus the available primary and secondary sources.
  • How do power-sharing systems known for their immobilism and proneness to stalemate interact with time? This paper builds on Lebanon’s political system, commonly framed as a sectarian system of power-sharing to investigate the relationship between power sharing systems and temporalities. Framed for a long time as a relatively liberal system amid surrounding authoritarian systems, Lebanon’s sectarian model of politics has been astonishingly “time-resilient” at the expense of people’s wellbeing and future-oriented policy planning. In the name of preserving religious coexistence through sectarian-based political offices, it has turned a blind eye to infrastructural, environmental, and economic reforms. Indeed, since 1943, the political system has been caught into a cycle of “recurrent dilemmas.” Empirical evidence shows that the temporal routines of Lebanon’s policy-making cycles may be one of the heaviest in terms of incurring losses on people’s time, resources, and futures. The paper investigates the relationship between Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system and time through a dual lens: the macro-temporal and micro-temporal. First, it probes into the century-old “lifecycle” of Lebanon’s political system. This part grapples with key questions: how has such a political system matured over time? What historical and temporal routines as well as (geo)political “time horizons” have shaped its longevity? How has it performed over time? To assess the system’s lifecycle performance, the chapter critically delves into the time horizons and the temporal routines of key political dynamics. Examples are political deadlocks, electoral processes, wars, post-conflict settlements and policy-making cycles over issues such as electricity, trash, the environment, and the internet. The second part of the paper delves into micro-temporalities, investigating how the “lifecycle” of Lebanon’s political system, including deadlocks and policy inaction, has interacted with people’s daily schedules, productive time at work and ability to plan their future, including issues such as retirement.
  • Research Question: Has the informal nature of Iraq’s consociational system given it the flexibility to evolve through on-going negotiations, surviving the numerous challenges it has faced? Thesis Statement: This paper studies the evolution of Iraq’s political system since the first post-regime change elections of 2005, through four subsequent elections, seeking to explain its longevity. Arend Lijphart, the dominant intellectual in the study of consociationalism, argued that consociations based on informal rules “generally worked better”, because they were more flexible but also because they might indicate greater levels of trust between the political elites involved in negotiating the settlement. Iraq’s post-regime change political system, an informal consociation, has survived the numerous challenges it has faced: the steady reduction in voter turnout and the legitimacy of the system itself, the coercive challenges posed by the insurgency and civil war of 2004-2007 and the seizure of Mosul by the Islamic State in 2014, the mass Tishreen movement of 2019 and the violent contestation of the election results by key members of the governing elite in 2021-2. Despite these challenges, the informal consociational system has continued to deliver governments of national unity, binding a ruling elite together and to the Iraqi state. This paper examines how that system has changed to meet those challenges through intra-elite negotiations and continued to survive. Methodology: Data for this paper comes from a number of semi-structured elite interviews carried out across Iraq with key members of the country’s ruling elite from a number of different political parties. All the data gained during these interviews has been triangulated with the other interview data. Interviews data was then triangulated with research carried out on government documents, contemporaneous journalistic coverage and secondary sources. Conclusions or recommendations: Both the longevity and flexibility of Iraq’s informal consociational system raises troubling questions about the use of consociations in post-conflict settings. As Lijphart would have predicted, the system did create a unity of interest amongst senior politicians claiming to represent Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. However, this elite pact did not stop widespread and extended violence, justified in the name of ethno-sectarian identity, it did not halt a steady decline in voter turnout and it has not prevented widespread politically sanctioned corruption from undermining the institutional coherence of the state.