Negotiating Illegality: Bypassed Minorities’ Access to Infrastructure in Middle Eastern Democracies
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What happens when democratic governments distribute infrastructure systems perceived as prerequisites for economic prosperity and modernization, such as systems providing water and electricity, to disadvantage their minority communities? How do bypassed communities react to the state’s discriminatory distribution practices? Public goods distribution literature argues that democracies do not distribute resources discriminatorily. The premise of this dissertation, comparatively examining the distribution of infrastructure in peripheral mixed regions of Israel and Turkey, asks how politicians who disadvantage minorities during infrastructure distribution later comply with these groups’ subsequent illegal access if the group holds significant electoral power. In other words, in democratic countries, bypassed communities’ ability to illegally access denied resources is determined by their electoral weight. With greater electoral weight comes greater state tolerance of illegal resource use. If minority groups do not wield such power in their region, illegal access is not tolerated, and they are left to engage in more conventional political actions, such as demonstrations, litigation, or advocacy. I develop this argument through comparative case studies of infrastructure distribution between 1970s and 2015, in the mixed regions of two Middle Eastern democracies, Israel and Turkey. In building these case studies, I draw on textual analysis of administrative records and newspapers, in-depth interviews, and participant observations conducted during 14 months of ethnographic field research conducted in the Bedouin populated Negev/Naqab region of Israel and Kurdish populated Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey. Several empirical observations distinguish my theory from existing scholarship, which overlooks bypassed communities, who, it is assumed, either do not struggle against discriminatory distribution policies or, if they struggle, do so in the same ways. My research, in contrast, shows that: 1) infrastructure distribution is not a purely technical decision—politicians intervene at various stages to decide when and where to provide infrastructure; 2) the state actors weaponized infrastructure and disadvantaged the dissident minority communities during the resource distribution; 3) discriminated groups with electoral power negotiate illegal access in exchange for their votes; 4) discriminated groups without electoral power cannot negotiate illegal access with politicians, and instead engage in more conventional political actions, such as taking their case to the court, organizing non-violent demonstrations, and conducting international advocacy to put pressure on the government to alter its policy. This dissertation reveals how infrastructure distribution, often considered a non-political process, can be a highly discriminatory practice from the perspective of bypassed communities, especially if they belong to a political minority, and how illegal access to denied infrastructure by those bypassed communities is likewise a politically sanctioned act. Scholars often assume that stealthy access to denied resources is used as a last resort by marginalized communities pushed outside of conventional demand-making mechanisms. My research instead shows that illegal access is possible only for groups with enough electoral power to negotiate politicians’ compliance. In other words, illegal access is not a last resort for the marginalized. It is a tactic available only to the ones with electoral power.