Civil Society Institutions and Participation in Anti-Regime Resistance in Palestine

By Yael Zeira
Submitted to Session P4362 (The Causes and Consequences of Political Participation and Social Movements in the Middle East, 2016 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Does integration into civil society institutions make individuals more likely to participate in predominantly nonviolent, anti-regime resistance? The foundational literature on civil society institutions argues that they lead to greater civic engagement among their members (Putnam 1993). Others have challenged the extent to which these arguments apply to non-democratic regimes, which can use patronage to coopt civil society institutions (Jamal 2007). Yet, what impact do these institutions have in non-democratic regimes that rely primarily on coercion over cooptation? That is, do civil society institutions facilitate civic engagement and opposition even in the shadow of repression?

This manuscript investigates these questions using data from an original, randomized survey of participants and non-participants in the first Palestinian intifada and its antecedents, as well as interviews with civil society activists, members and non-members. I find that formal membership in civil society institutions is associated with a greater likelihood of participation in anti-regime resistance, although the data are not sufficiently fine-grained as to rule out reverse causality. However, informal civil society networks – knowing a member of a civil society institution – are strongly associated with future participation in anti-regime resistance. These informal civil society networks are not based on strong, antecedent communities but, rather, emerge as individuals access the social services and activities provided by civil society institutions. Thus, integration into civil society institutions, via their services and activities, joins previously unconnected individuals together in new social networks that facilitate collective action. Finally, I show that the impact of civil society networks is not static but is strongest in the early stages of a protest movement, when demonstrations are small in size and individuals are unlikely to join based on aggregate turnout rates. These findings have important implications for the literatures on protest, civil society, Palestinian politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.