Monday, November 27, 2017

Minorities in the Middle East

I recently heard an Israeli-Palestinian law-maker being interviewed on the Voice of Israel radio station. He had just returned from an academic conference in France where it seemed that Israel's treatment of its Arab minority was compared to minority treatment in Western Europe.  This can easily be misleading, annd I thought it would be a good idea to also compare Israel with other Middle Eastern countries. My findings from a brief investigation:
I rounded figures as they are very rough. Mostly they come from

CountryKurdishLarge religous minoritiesLarge national minoritiesTotal populationPer capita incomeHuman development indexLife expectancy


Alawite 11%
Kurds 10 - 15%




Christian 10%
Iraq15-20%Sunni 30%Kurds 15-20%35m14,00012069
Iran7%Azeris 24%
Kurds 7%
Turkey18%Kurds 18%75m4,7009273
EgyptCoptic-christian 7%85m1,25011170
YemenShia 33%20m60015062
SaudiShia 15%25m11,2007672

10% Iraqi



50% Palestinian
IsraelMoslem 18%(or) Arab 20%9m37,5001982

As you can see the main minority in the Middle East are Kurds. The famous Sykes-Picot agreement, and the subsequent League of Nation's Mandates ignored the Kurds, giving control of their lands to "Arab" states. Defining a state solely by the language spoken by a large group of its populace is problematic: Ireland is not an "English" state and Austria is not a "German" state.

How minorities are defined varies between countries. In some countries minorities are "indigenous", in some they are "racial" and they can also be "religous".
The British do not regard indigenous people as minorities, for example the British don't consider "Scottish" or "Irish" as a minority status. European immigrants, such as Poles may be regarded as minorities but in most tables minority status is "racial" so only non-Europeans are tabulated.

In Spain, indegenous peoples such as Catalans (16%) or Galicians (5%) are generaly seen as minorities. Although Israelis refer to "Arabs", these days, religion is the primary mode of distinction. Discrimination in Israel tends to be Ethno-Religious which I suppose reflects the primarily Ethno-Religous nature of the Jewish majority and does not comfortably fit into "racial" based groupings.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are the only states (outside tiny Gulf states) with significant migration from outside the Middle East: In Israel,unusually, migrants and their descendants form the majority of the population, with most coming from other Middle Eastern countries.

Regarding the Kurds, I found this:
  • Syria - There was, prior to the civil war, forced "Arabization" leading to a ban on the Kurdish language and a ban on the use of Kurdish names. 300,000 native Syrian-Kurds were not recognized as Syrian citizens. 
  • Iraq - 200,000 Kurdish civillians were killed 1986-1989 (genocide) and 1.5 million fled their homes in 1991. Arabization forced many Kurds out of Kurdish-majority cities.
  • Turkey - There have been Kurdish language bans (not sure of the current status on this) and forced removal of villages (don't know how many).

I left Lebanon out of the table. There is no majority in Lebanon.

Israel does not easily compare with other countries, it has charecteristics of a Middle Eastern country, of a West European and of an East European country. A valid comparison needs to use a wider base. Binary comparisons are likely ot be misleading ro fail to see the wider picture.


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