Stay in Your Lane! How Regimes Balance Political Opposition in the Arabian Gulf Open Access
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Stay in Your Lane! How Regimes Balance Political Opposition in the Arabian GulfWhat explains variation over time in how states treat “non-core groups”? What are the reasons for co-opting, accommodating, or politically excluding them? Drawing on insights in ethnic politics and international relations, a recent body of literature claims that interstate relations and foreign policy ought to drive state decision making toward externally linked groups. Yet, I observe outcomes that suggest that when regimes perceive a higher threat to internal regime security than they do to their territorial borders, domestic politics is more important in driving regime decision making toward such groups. In such situations, even if non-core groups are supported by unfriendly external powers, I argue that regimes decide to accommodate, accommodate and co-opt, or politically exclude such groups based on their location in the architecture of the opposition—the numerical strength and diversity of identities in the opposition that threaten the regime in power. The causal mechanism for this relationship is the perception of proximate threats to regime security from political opposition, with larger, crosscutting oppositional configurations posing a bigger threat than smaller, homogenous opposition. I also argue that regimes prefer non-core groups to “stay in their lane,” that is, that they remain narrowly political in regards to pursuing goods from the state related to their identity.This dissertation employs an in-depth, single case study of one group in the same country over time, testing the finding in a secondary country using a most similar systems approach. The case of Kuwait’s treatment of its Shi‘a from 1963 through 2011 serves as the in-depth case study, and uses data gathered from seventy interviews during half a year of fieldwork in Kuwait City in 2013, in addition to documents from the British National Archives and Arabic media. I also briefly compare outcomes in policies toward the Shi‘a to policies toward the stateless residents and expatriates. Insights from the Kuwaiti case are tested on the secondary case of Bahrain to explain regime treatment of the Shi‘a from 1973 through 2011. I also suggest that the theory may be extrapolated to explain the variation in recent relations between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the non-core Kurds in Turkey. The findings crack open the black box of ethnic politics in semi-authoritarian regimes, helping to explain variation—and some counter-intuitive co-optation—in cases in which we might expect more exclusion in general.