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Ethnocracy is a form of government where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts disproportionately large to the percentage of the total population that the particular ethnic group(s) represents and use them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group(s) to the detriment of others.[1]

The ethnic groups are systematically discriminated against by the state and may face repressions or violations of human rights at the hands of state organs. Ethnocracy can also be a political regime which is instituted on the basis of qualified rights to citizenship, and with ethnic affiliation (defined in terms of race, descent, religion, or language) as the distinguishing principle.[2]

Generally, the raison d'être of an ethnographic government is to secure the most important instruments of state power in the hands of a specific ethnic collectivity. All other considerations concerning the distribution of power are ultimately subordinated to this basic intention. Ethnocracies are generally considered to be non-democratic in nature.

Ethnocracies are characterised by their control system – the legal, institutional, and physical instruments of power deemed necessary to secure ethnic dominance. The degree of system discrimination will tend to vary greatly from case to case and from situation to situation. If the dominant group (whose interests the system is meant to serve and whose identity it is meant to represent) constitutes a small minority (20% or less) of the population within the state territory, extreme degrees of institutionalised suppression will probably be necessary to sustain the status quo.

The other side of the coin might well be a system of full-fledged democracy (inclusive and competitive in Robert Dahl's terminology) for the privileged population, making up what Pierre van den Berghe (1981) calls "Herrenvolk Democracy"(with reference to apartheid South Africa). This is a system of ethnocracy which offers democratic participation to the dominant group only.

Mono-ethnocracy vs. Poly-ethnocracy[edit]

In October 2012, Lise Morjé Howard [3] introduced the terms mono-ethnocracy and poly-ethnocracy. Mono-ethnocracy is a type of regime where one ethnic group dominates, which conforms with the traditional understanding of ethnocracy. Poly-ethnocracy is a type of regime where more than one ethnic group governs the state. Both mono- and poly-ethnocracy are types of ethnocracy. Ethnocracy is founded on the assumptions that ethnic groups are primordial, ethnicity is the basis of political identity, and citizens rarely share multiple ethnic identities.


Lise Morjé Howard [3] has labeled Belgium as both a poly-ethnocracy and a democracy. Citizens in Belgium exercise political rights found in democracies, such as voting and free speech. However, Belgian politics is increasingly defined by ethnic divisions between the Flemish and Francophone. For example, all the major political parties are formed around either a Flemish or Francophone identity. Furthermore, bilingual education has disappeared from most Francophone schools.


Israel has been labelled an ethnocracy by scholars such as: Alexander Kedar,[4] Shlomo Sand,[5] Oren Yiftachel,[6] Asaad Ghanem,[7] Haim Yakobi,[8] Nur Mashala[9] and Hannah Naveh.[10] However, scholars such as Gershon Shafir, Yoav Peled and Sammy Smooha prefer the term ethnic democracy to describe Israel,[11] a term which is intended[12] to represent a "middle ground" between an ethnocracy and a liberal democracy.

Latvia and Estonia[edit]

There is a spectrum of opinion among authors as to the classification of Latvia and Estonia, spanning from Liberal or Civic Democracy[13][14] through Ethnic democracy[15] to Ethnocracy. Will Kymlicka regards Estonia as a democracy, stressing the peculiar status of Russian-speakers, stemming from being at once partly transients, partly immigrants and partly natives.[16] British researcher Neil Melvin concludes that Estonia is moving towards a genuinely pluralist democratic society through its liberalization of citizenship and actively drawing of leaders of the Russian settler communities into the political process.[17] James Hughes, in the United Nations Development Programme's Development and Transition, contends Latvia and Estonia are cases of ‘ethnic democracy’ where the state has been captured by the titular ethnic group and then used to promote ‘nationalising’ policies and alleged discrimination against Russophone minorities.[15] (Development and Transition has also published papers disputing Hughes' contentions.) Israeli researchers Oren Yiftachel and As’ad Ghanem consider Estonia as an ethnocracy.[18][19] Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha, of the University of Haifa, disagrees with Yiftachel, contending that the ethnocratic model developed by Yiftachel does not fit the case of Latvia and Estonia; it is not a settler society as its core ethnic group is indigenous, nor did it expand territorially or have a diaspora intervening in its internal affairs as in the case of Israel for which Yiftachel originally developed his model.[20]

South Africa[edit]

Ethnocracy indicates a specific principle of power-distribution in a society. In his book Power-Sharing in South Africa,[21] Arend Lijphart classifies contemporary constitutional proposals for a solution to the conflict in South Africa into four categories:

  • majoritarian (one man, one vote)
  • non-democratic (varieties of white domination)
  • partitionist (creating new political entities)
  • consociational (power-sharing by proportional representation and elite accommodation) (1985:5)

Not surprisingly, Lijphart argues strongly in favour of the consociational model and his categories illustrates that, on the constitutional level, state power can be distributed along two dimensions: Legal-institutional and territorial.

Along the legal-institutional dimension we can distinguish between singularism (power centralised according to membership in a specific group), pluralism (power-distribution among defined groups according to relative numerical strength), and universalism (power-distribution without any group-specific qualifications). The three main alternatives on the territorial dimension are the unitary state, "intermediate restructuring" (within one formal sovereignty), and partition (creating separate political entities). Ethnocracy indicates a specific principle of power-distribution in a society.


Uganda under dictator Idi Amin Dada has also been described as an ethnocracy favouring certain indigenous groups over others, as well as for the ethnic cleansing of Indians in Uganda by Amin.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kariye, Badal W. "The Political Sociology of Security, Politics, Economics and Diplomacy" AuthorHouse 2010 ISBN 9781452085470 Page 99, item 20 View on Google Books
  2. ^ sundry authors "Citizenship and the State in the Middle East: Approaches and Applications" Syracuse University Press 2000 ISBN 0815628293 Page 153
  3. ^ a b Howard, L. M. (October 2012). "The Ethnocracy Trap". Journal of Democracy, Vol. 23, No. 4, p.p. 155-169.
  4. ^ Taking space seriously: law, space, and society in contemporary Israel By Issachar Rosen-Zvi
  5. ^ The Invention of the Jewish People
  6. ^ Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine, Pennpress, 2006
  7. ^ It can be defined as an ethnocratic state [...]," writes Asaad Ghanem in the Future Vision Document
  8. ^ Urban informality: transnational perspectives from the Middle East, Latin ... By Ananya Roy, Nezar AlSayyad
  9. ^ The Bible and Zionism: invented traditions, archaeology and post ..., Volume 1 By Nur Masalha
  10. ^ Israeli family and community: women's time page 149
  11. ^ Israeli Nationalism: Social Conflicts and the Politics of Knowledge By Uri Ram
  12. ^ Jews and human rights: dancing at three weddings By Michael Galchinsky page 144
  13. ^ Pickles, John; Smith, Adrian (1998). Theorising transition: the political economy of post-Communist transformations. Taylor & Francis. p. 284. 
  14. ^ Jubulis, M. (2001). "Nationalism and Democratic Transition". The Politics of Citizenship and Language in Post-Soviet Latvia. Lanham, New York and Oxford: University Press of America. pp. 201–208. 
  15. ^ a b Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia — synopsis of article published in the Journal of Common Market Studies (November 2005)
  16. ^ Kymlicka, Will (2000). "Estonia’s Integration Policies in a Comparative Perspective". Estonia’s Integration Landscape: From Apathy to Harmony. pp. 29–57. 
  17. ^ Melvin, N. J. (2000). "Post imperial Ethnocracy and the Russophone Minorities of Estonia and Latvia". In Stein, J. P. The Policies of National Minority Participation Post-Communist Europe. State-Building, Democracy and Ethnic Mobilisation. EastWest Institute (EWI). p. 160. 
  18. ^ Yiftachel, Oren; As’ad Ghanem (August 2004). "Understanding ‘ethnocratic’ regimes: the politics of seizing contested territories". Political Geography 23 (6). doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.04.003. 
  19. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (23 January 2004). "Ethnocratic States and Spaces". United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  20. ^ Smooha , S. The model of ethnic democracy, European Centre for Minority Issues, ECMI Working Paper # 13, 2001, p23.
  21. ^ Lijphart, Arend (1985). Power-sharing in South Africa. Berkeley : Institute of International Studies, University of California. ISBN 0-87725-524-5. 
  22. ^ Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy by Ali A. Mazrui. Author(s) of Review: Rodger Yeager The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1977), pp. 289-293. doi:10.2307/217352

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocracy — Please support Wikipedia.
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55 news items

Huffington Post
Tue, 29 Jul 2014 09:18:45 -0700

But a meaningful coexistence that will move beyond simple and abstracted vocabularies of freedom and oppression requires a deep re-imagining of Jewish-Israeli collective identity and a shift away from ethnocracy. This is the hard cultural, religious, ...
Arab News
Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:30:00 -0700

This media-savvy US Jewish journalist has been reviled by Zionists for painting an unforgiving picture of Israel as a rabidly Arabophobic ethnocracy. However, his outraged critics have been hard-pressed to fault his book on grounds of accuracy. For ...
Monterey County Herald
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:34:52 -0700

It is an ethnocracy; a society in which one ethnic group, Jews, enjoy significantly more rights and privileges than other groups. This should not be surprising because Israel was founded on the racist doctrine of Zionism that claims that one people ...

Florida Courier

Florida Courier
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 05:45:00 -0700

00_brucedixon Sometimes a silence can be the loudest sound in the room. The silence of our numerous and powerful US Black political class, not just on the current massacres of civilians in Gaza but on the incontrovertible fact that Israel has become a ...
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 00:52:30 -0700

That is not all, however. Admittedly, it is in these varied contexts that Achebe audaciously brands Joseph Conrad a “thoroughgoing racist,” a politically correct phraseology not unlike the descriptive formula that captures the political ethnocentrism ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:30:43 -0700

Israel's postwar policy was indeed muddled, but the end result was one of the most prolonged military occupations of modern times. Within its original borders, Israel had been a democracy, however flawed. Greater Israel, on the other hand, is an ...
The Arab Daily News
Mon, 14 Jul 2014 08:40:17 -0700

Ethnocracy, or ethno-nationalism, privileges ethnos over demos, whereby one's ethnic affiliation, be it defined by race, descent, religion, language or national origin, takes precedence over citizenship in determining to whom a county actually 'belongs ...


The Real News Network
Fri, 11 Jul 2014 02:00:00 -0700

Needless to say, most Jewish Israelis would prefer to avoid this outcome – not just because of the international disapprobation that would follow, but also because they believe, in defiance of right reason, that an ethnocracy can also be democratic.

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