This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: The fact-checking of every individual source for explicit mentions of ethnocracy. Please help improve this article if you can. (November 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

An ethnocracy is a type of political structure in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group (or groups) to further its interests, power, dominance, and resources. Ethnocratic regimes in the modern era typically display a 'thin' democratic façade covering a more profound ethnic structure, in which ethnicity (race, religion, language etc) – and not citizenship – is the key to securing power and resources.[1]

An ethnocratic society facilitates the ethnicization of the state by the dominant group, through the expansion of control likely accompanied by conflict with minorities or neighbouring states. A theory of ethnocratic regimes was developed by critical geographer Oren Yiftachel during the 1990s and later developed by a range of international scholars.

Characteristics, structure, and dynamics

In the 20th century, a few states passed (or attempted to pass) nationality laws through efforts that share certain similarities. All took place in countries with at least one national minority that sought full equality in the state or in a territory that had become part of the state and in which it had lived for generations. Nationality laws were passed in societies that felt threatened by these minorities' aspirations of integration and demands for equality, resulting in regimes that turned xenophobia into major tropes. These laws were grounded in one ethnic identity, defined in contrast to the identity of the other, leading to persecution of and codified discrimination against minorities.[2]

Research shows that several spheres of control are vital for ethnocratic regimes, including of the armed forces, police, land administration, immigration and economic development. These powerful government instruments may ensure domination by the leading ethnic groups and the stratification of society into 'ethnoclasses' (exacerbated by 20th century capitalism's typically neo-liberal policies). Ethnocracies often manage to contain ethnic conflict in the short term by effective control over minorities and by effectively using the 'thin' procedural democratic façade. However, they tend to become unstable in the longer term, suffering from repeated conflict and crisis, which are resolved by either substantive democratization, partition, or regime devolution into consociational arrangements. Alternatively, ethnocracies that do not resolve their internal conflict may deteriorate into periods of long-term internal strife and the institutionalization of structural discrimination (such as apartheid).

In ethnocratic states, the government is typically representative of a particular ethnic group, which holds a disproportionately large number of posts. The dominant ethnic group (or groups) uses them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group(s) to the detriment of others.[3][4][5][6] Other ethnic groups are systematically discriminated against and may face repression or violations of their human rights at the hands of state organs. Ethnocracy can also be a political regime instituted on the basis of qualified rights to citizenship, with ethnic affiliation (defined in terms of race, descent, religion, or language) as the distinguishing principle.[7] Generally, the raison d'être of an ethnocratic 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.[citation needed]

Ethnocracies are characterized 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 (typically 20% or less) of the population within the state territory, substantial institutionalized suppression will probably be necessary to sustain its control.

Means of avoiding ethnocracy

One view is that the most effective means of eliminating ethnic discrimination vary depending on the specific situation. In the Caribbean, a "rainbow nationalism" type of non-ethnic, inclusive civic nationalism has been developed as a way to eliminate ethnic power hierarchies over time. (Although Creole peoples are central in the Caribbean, Eric Kauffman warns against conflating the presence of a dominant ethnicity in such countries with ethnic nationalism.[8])

Andreas Wimmler notes that a non-ethnic federal system without minority rights has helped Switzerland to avoid ethnocracy but that this did not help in overcoming ethnic discrimination when introduced in Bolivia. Likewise, ethnic federalism "produced benign results in India and Canada" but did not work in Nigeria and Ethiopia.[9] Edward E. Telles notes that anti-discrimination legislation may not work as well in Brazil as in the U.S. at addressing ethnoracial inequalities, since much of the discrimination that occurs in Brazil is class-based, and Brazilian judges and police often ignore laws that are intended to benefit non-elites.[10]

Mono-ethnocracy vs. poly-ethnocracy

In October 2012, Lise Morjé Howard[11] 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 sustain multiple ethnic identities.[citation needed]

Ethnocracies around the world

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2024)


Lise Morjé Howard[11] 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 communities. 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.[citation needed]


See also: 2018 anti-ICERD rally

Malaysia has been labeled as a pro-Bumiputera/Malay ethnocracy by various academics due to the Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia, as well as the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) ideology, which gives them more economic, political and social rights over the Malaysian minorities such as the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians, who are treated as de facto second-class citizens.[12][13]


Israel has been labeled an ethnocracy by scholars such as Alexander Kedar,[14] Shlomo Sand,[15] Oren Yiftachel,[16] Asaad Ghanem,[17][18] Haim Yakobi,[19] Nur Masalha[20] and Hannah Naveh.[21] It is also viewed as an apartheid state by various organisations, including B'tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, due to actions committed against Palestinians that they see as emblematic of such a state.[22][23][24]

However, scholars such as Gershon Shafir, Yoav Peled and Sammy Smooha prefer the term ethnic democracy to describe Israel,[25] which is intended[26] to represent a "middle ground" between an ethnocracy and a liberal democracy. Smooha in particular argues that ethnocratic democracies, allowing a privileged status to a dominant ethnic majority while ensuring that all individuals have equal rights, are defensible. His opponents reply that insofar as Israel contravenes equality in practice, the term 'democratic' in his equation is flawed.[27]

In 2018, Israel passed the Nation-State Bill which declared that "The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people." The law also removed the official status of Arabic, with Hebrew remaining the sole official language of Israel.

Latvia and Estonia

There is a spectrum of opinion among authors as to the classification of Latvia and Estonia, spanning from liberal democracy[28][29] through ethnic democracy[30] to ethnocracy. Will Kymlicka regards Estonia as a democracy, stressing the peculiar status of Russian-speakers as stemming from being at once partly transients, partly immigrants and partly natives.[31]

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.[32] 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.[30] (Development and Transition has also published papers disputing Hughes' contentions.)

Israeli researchers Oren Yiftachel and As'ad Ghanem consider Estonia as an ethnocracy.[33][34] 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: they are not settler societies as their core ethnic groups are indigenous, nor did they expand territorially, nor have diasporas intervening in their internal affairs (as in the case of Israel for which Yiftachel originally developed his model).[35]

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has been described as an ethnocracy by numerous scholars. Wendy Pullan describes gerrymandering of electoral districts to ensure Unionist domination and informal policies that led to the police force being overwhelmingly Protestant as features of the Unionist ethnocracy. Other elements included discriminatory housing and policies designed to encourage Catholic emigration.[36] Ian Shuttleworth, Myles Gould and Paul Barr agree that the systematic bias against Catholics and Irish nationalists fit the criteria for describing Northern Ireland as an ethnocracy from the time of the partition of Ireland until at least 1972, but argue that after the suspension of the Stormont Parliament, and even more so after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, ethnocracy was weakened, and that Northern Ireland cannot be plausibly described as an ethnocracy today.[37]


According to academic Alana Tiemessen in 2004, Rwanda's president Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front political party have "been characterised inside and outside of Rwanda as a militarised ethnocracy that propagates the survival of Tutsis over the well-being of Hutus".[38] In 2024, The New York Times noted that critics contended that members of the Tutsi ethnic group "dominate[d] the top echelons" of Rwanda's government under Kagame, thereby excluding Hutus and their 85% of the country's population.[39] Prior to the 1990–1994 Rwanda Civil War and 1994 Rwandan genocide, Rwanda had been ruled by a Hutu ethnocracy since 1959.[40]

South Africa

Until 1994, South Africa had institutionalized a highly ethnocratic state structure, apartheid. In his 1985 book Power-Sharing in South Africa,[41] Arend Lijphart classified contemporaneous constitutional proposals to address the resulting conflict into four categories:

These illustrate the idea that state power can be distributed along two dimensions: legal-institutional and territorial. Along the legal-institutional dimension are 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). On the territorial dimension are the unitary state, "intermediate restructuring" (within one formal sovereignty), and partition (creating separate political entities). Lijphart had argued strongly in favour of the consociational model.


Turkey has been described as an ethnocracy by Bilge Azgın.[42] Azgın points to government policies whose goals are the "exclusion, marginalization, or assimilation" of minority groups that are non-Turkish as the defining elements of Turkish ethnocracy. Israeli researcher As'ad Ghanem also considers Turkey an ethnocracy,[43] while Jack Fong describes Turkey's policy of referring to its Kurdish minority as "mountain Turks" and its refusal to acknowledge any separate Kurdish identity as elements of the Turkish ethnocracy.[44]


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.[45]

See also


  1. ^ Anderson, James (Nov 30, 2016). "ETHNOCRACY: Exploring and Extending the Concept". Cosmopolitan Civil Societies. 8 (3): 1–29. doi:10.5130/ccs.v8i3.5143. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  2. ^ Blatman, Daniel (27 November 2014). "The 'Nation-state' Bill: Jews Should Know Exactly Where It Leads". Haaretz. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  3. ^ Yiftachel, O (1997). "Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation: Ethnocracy and Its Territorial Contradictions". Middle East Journal. 51 (4): 505–519.
  4. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (2008). "'Ethnocracy': The Politics of Judaizing Israel/Palestine". Constellations. 6 (3): 364–390. doi:10.1111/1467-8675.00151.
  5. ^ Yiftachel, O.; Ghanem, A. (2005). "Understanding Ethnocratic Regimes: the Politics of Seizing Contested Territories". Political Geography. 23 (6): 647–67. doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.04.003.
  6. ^ Yiftachel, O. (2006) Ethnocracy: Land, and the Politics of Identity Israel/Palestine (PennPress)
  7. ^ Kariye, Badal W. "The Political Sociology of Security, Politics, Economics and Diplomacy" AuthorHouse 2010; ISBN 9781452085470, p. 99, item 20 View on Google Books
  8. ^ Kaufmann, Eric; Haklai, Oded (October 2008). "Reply: on the importance of distinguishing dominant ethnicity from nationalism". Nations and Nationalism. 14 (4): 813–816. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2008.00375.x.
  9. ^ Wimmer, Andreas (June 2008). "Review symposium: The left-Herderian ontology of multiculturalism" (PDF). Ethnicities. 8 (2): 254–260. doi:10.1177/14687968080080020102. S2CID 143689399.
  10. ^ Telles, Edward E. (2004). Race in another America : the significance of skin color in Brazil.
  11. ^ a b Howard, L. M. (2012). "The Ethnocracy Trap". Journal of Democracy. 23 (4): 155–169. doi:10.1353/jod.2012.0068. S2CID 145795576.
  12. ^ Chew, Amy. "Malaysia's dangerous racial and religious trajectory". Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  13. ^ Amy L. Freedman (2000). Political Participation and Ethnic Minorities: Chinese Overseas in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United States. Routledge. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-415-92446-7.
  14. ^ Rosen-Zvi, Issachar (2004). Taking space seriously: law, space, and society in contemporary Israel. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0754623519.
  15. ^ Strenger, Carlo (27 November 2009). "Shlomo Sand's 'The Invention of the Jewish People' Is a Success for Israel". Haaretz. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  16. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (2006). Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0812239270.
  17. ^ Peleg, Ilan; Waxman, Dov (2011). Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within. Cambridge University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0521157025. It can be defined as an ethnocratic state [...]," writes Asaad Ghanem in the Future Vision Document
  18. ^ Anat First; Eli Avraham (2004). "Globalization/Americanization and Negotiating National Dreams: Representations of Culture and Economy in Israeli Advertising". Israel Studies Forum. 22–23 (1). Association for Israel Studies: 72. JSTOR 41804965.
  19. ^ Roy, Ananya; Nezar, AlSayyad (2003). Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739107416.
  20. ^ Masalha, Nur (2003). The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-colonialism in Palestine-Israel. Vol. 1. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1842777619.
  21. ^ Naveh, Hannah (2003). Israeli Family and Community: Women's Time. Vallentine Mitchell. ISBN 978-0853035053.
  22. ^ "Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution". Human Rights Watch. April 27, 2021.
  23. ^ "A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid". B'Tselem. January 12, 2021.
  24. ^ "Israel's apartheid against Palestinians". Amnesty International. 2022-02-01. Retrieved 2023-12-05.
  25. ^ Uri Ram, Nationalism: Social conflicts and the politics of knowledge, Taylor & Francis, 2010 pp.63-67.
  26. ^ Michael Galchinsky, Jews and Human Rights: Dancing at Three Weddings, Rowman & Littlefield, 2008 p.144
  27. ^ Katie Attwell, Israeli National Identity and Dissidence: The Contradictions of Zionism and Resistance, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 p.26.
  28. ^ Pickles, John; Smith, Adrian (1998). Theorising transition: the political economy of post-Communist transformations. Taylor & Francis. p. 284.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ a b Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia Archived 2008-05-04 at the Wayback Machine — synopsis of article published in the Journal of Common Market Studies (November 2005)
  31. ^ Kymlicka, Will (2000). "Estonia's Integration Policies in a Comparative Perspective". Estonia's Integration Landscape: From Apathy to Harmony. pp. 29–57.
  32. ^ Melvin, N.J. (2000). "Post imperial Ethnocracy and the Russophone Minorities of Estonia and Latvia". In Stein, J.P. (ed.). The Policies of National Minority Participation Post-Communist Europe. State-Building, Democracy and Ethnic Mobilisation. EastWest Institute. p. 160.
  33. ^ Yiftachel, Oren; As'ad Ghanem (August 2004). "Understanding 'ethnocratic' regimes: the politics of seizing contested territories". Political Geography. 23 (6): 647–676. doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2004.04.003.
  34. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (23 January 2004). "Ethnocratic States and Spaces". United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  35. ^ Smooha, S. The model of ethnic democracy Archived June 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, European Centre for Minority Issues, ECMI Working Paper # 13, 2001, p23.
  36. ^ Pullan, Wendy (2013). Locating Urban Conflicts: Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Everyday. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 208–209.
  37. ^ Shuttleworth, Ian (2015). Social-Spatial Segregation: Concepts, Processes and Outcomes. Policy Press. pp. 201–202.
  38. ^ Tiemessen, Alana Erin (2004). "After Arusha: Gacaca Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda". 8 (1): 66. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  39. ^ Walsh, Declan (2024-04-06). "From the Horror to the Envy of Africa: Rwanda's Leader Holds Tight Grip". The New York Times.
  40. ^ Young, Crawford (2012-11-20). The Postcolonial State in Africa: Fifty Years of Independence, 1960–2010. University of Wisconsin Pres. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-299-29143-3.
  41. ^ Lijphart, Arend (1985). Power-sharing in South Africa. Policy Papers in International Affairs, No. 24. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California. pp. 5. ISBN 0-87725-524-5.
  42. ^ Azgın, Bilge (2012). The Uneasy Democratization of Turkey's Laic-Ethnocracy (PhD). University of Manchester.
  43. ^ Waxman, Dov; Peleg, Ilan (2008-12-01). "Neither Ethnocracy nor Bi-Nationalism: In Search of the Middle Ground". Israel Studies Review. 23 (2): 55–73. doi:10.3167/isf.2008.230203. ISSN 2159-0370. An "ethnocratic state," according to Ghanem is one that is controlled by one ethnic group and that operates in the interests of that dominant ethnic group. Other states that Ghanem labels ethnocratic states are Turkey, Sri Lanka, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
  44. ^ Fong, Jack (2008). Revolution as Development: The Karen Self-Determination Struggle Against Ethnocracy (1949- 2004). Universal-Publishers. p. 81.
  45. ^ Yeager, Rodger; Mazrui, Ali A. (1977). "Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 10 (2): 289. doi:10.2307/217352. JSTOR 217352.