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Studies 08 March, 2018

On the Development of the Concept of Consociational Democracy

and its Adequacy for Resolving Sectarian Conflicts: Northern Ireland and Lebanon as Case Studies

Azmi Bishara

General Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Dr. Bishara is a researcher and writer with numerous books and publications on political thought, social theory and philosophy, as well as some literary works. He taught philosophy and cultural studies at Birzeit University from 1986 to 1996, and was involved in the establishment of research centers in Palestine including the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy (Muwatin) and the Mada al-Carmel Center for Applied Social Research. In 2007 he was forced to go into exile after being prosecuted by Israel. In 2002 he won the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought, and in 2003 the Global Exchange Human Rights Award. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1986 at Humboldt University in Berlin, having previously completed his master’s degree there in 1984.

Dr. Bishara has published hundreds of papers and studies in academic journals in various languages. His best-known publications include: On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Manifesto; Civil Society: A Critical Study; Religion and Secularity in Historical Context (two parts in three volumes); On Revolution and Revolutionary Potential; Is There a Coptic Issue in Egypt?; To be an Arab in our Times; The Army and Politics: Theoretical Problems and Arab Models; Essay on Freedom; Sect, Sectarianism and Imagined Sects; What is Salafism?; and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon. Some of these books have become seminal works in their field.

He also produced a series of three books documenting the Arab revolutions that broke out in 2011: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution; Syria: The Painful Road to Freedom; and Egypt’s Revolution (two volumes). These books deal with the causes and stages of the revolutions in Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. These books are a rich contribution to the field of contemporary history thanks to their combination of documentation and narration of the day-to-day details of these revolutions and sharp analysis making connections between the social, economic and political backgrounds of each individual revolution.

This paper explores the theoretical model behind the concept of “consociational democracy”, beginning with its roots in the Austrian Marxist tradition to its elaboration in 1969 by the Dutch-American political scientist Arend Lijphart. Lijphart’s work was part of his wider critique of Gabriel Almond’s categorization of Western political systems. This study presents a structural criticism of the term “consociational democracy” and its usage, arguing that the practice of "consociational democracy" was born of pragmatic policies before maturing into a theoretical model. It further argues that the subsequent contributions by Lijphart were an extrapolation from a set of country case studies that lack an underlying "theory" and that “power sharing” does not necessarily lead to democratization. The study thus draws up several theoretical observations that help distinguish “consociationalism” from “consociational democracy”. Finally, the paper contrasts the suitability of this theoretical model in the case of Northern Ireland and Lebanon.


To read the full text of this paper as a PDF, click here or on the link above. This paper was originally published in the January, 2018 edition of  Siyasat Arabiya, the ACRPS' journal devoted to political science and strategic studies.