Understanding 'ethnocratic' regimes: The politics of seizing contested territories

Oren Yiftachel, As'ad Ghanem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper proposes a preliminary political-geographical theory of 'ethnocratic' regimes. It identifies such regimes as a distinct type, neither democratic, nor authoritarian. The paper defines and illustrates the evolution and characteristics of ethnocratic states, and examines their impact on ethnic relations and political stability. While these regimes represent themselves as democratic, their main project promotes the ethnicization of contested territory and power apparatus. Their logic, structure, features and trajectories are articulated and generalized, especially as regards key dimensions such as: democracy, minorities, 'ethno-classes', ethno-nationalism and religion. Three examples of ethnocratic regimes - in Sri Lanka, Israel and Estonia-are briefly described, analyzed and compared. On this basis, the paper constructs a tentative model, identifying six 'regime bases' as constituting a hegemonic regime core, including: immigration and citizenship, land and settlement, the role of the armed forces, the legal system, the flow of capital and public culture. These 'bases' largely determine the character of 'regime features', such as party politics, elections, gender relations and the media. But the hegemonic status of these bases is frequently challenged by groups marginalized by the expansion and control of the dominant ethnos. These groups attempt to exploit the 'cracks' emanating from the state's self-representation as democratic. The ceaseless ethnocratic-democratic tension typically results in chronic instability and prolonged ethnic conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-676
Number of pages30
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Democracy
  • Estonia
  • Ethnicity
  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Regime
  • Sri Lanka

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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