Trust in Divided Societies

State, Institutions and Governance in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine

Abdelhadi Alijla

Why do certain divided societies lack trust between their members more than others? Why are divided societies more prone to the collapse of social trusts than others? In this book I aim to explore the influence of institutional conditions on the level of generalised trust in divided societies. This book contributes to two main areas of literature: the first is the literature on social and pro-social preferences in divided societies(politically and ethnically), and second to the literature on social and institutional legacy of conflict. I argue through this book that institutions in divided societies are an important source of social trust in the long term and can easily destroy the level of social trust in societies if they are designed ineffectively and prove to be unfair and unequal. In general, the findings suggest that equal and fair public institutions are crucial to the social mechanism of trust.

In this book I relied on a mixed methods approach based on qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) was used to answer the question of: to what the extent do institutional conditions have an effect on trust, using eight case studies. In addition, statistical analysis using the Arab Barometer data as well as World Value Survey, backed with the case-study analysis was used to offer in-depth analysis of the case study of Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Through these methods, this book provides empirical evidence that institutions have a substantial impact on the level of trust between strangers within a divided society.

This book is developed from a conceptual framework inspired by several relevant bodies of literature, mainly theories of social capital and generalised trust, that have been used as basis for the analysis. To develop a conclusion a small number of cases studies were used from different societies in the QCA analysis. From Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Macedonia, South Africa, Turkey and Iraq, the QCA tried to capture the macro picture of the effect of institutions on the level of generalised trust. The QCA analysis illustrates that fair institutions with an effective and independent judicial and legal system, and an efficient non-sectarian civil society can maintain the level of generalised trust in divided societies and may contribute to increased trust in the society. The QCA also shows that the absence of equality and fairness in formal institutions and the absence of public deliberation and consultation, including civil society, have a greater negative impact on generalised trust in divided societies.

This book also used data from 2018-2019 Arab Barometer to capture how corruption affect level of generalised trust and institutional trust. Using more than 24,300 respondent data from ten countries in MENA region (Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon), the book found that corruption is strong predictor of both generalised trust and institutional trust. The analysis suggest that generalised trust and institutional trust are interconnected and work as a mechanical wheel moving each other. In addition to that, the findings suggest that trust is affected by the experience with corruption. A person tends to be have less trust in his fellows citizens and the political institutions if he is engaged or had an experience with corruption, and vice versa.

In Lebanon, the informality of the sectarian political system in Lebanon has reached the extent that the country has not had a president for more than two years (2014-2016). In this context, the chapter on Lebanon aims to examine the influence of institutional conditions on the level of generalised trust in a divided society such as that of Lebanon by conducting statistical analyses of Arab Barometer Survey data, and personal observations and interviews. The chapter argues that institutions, as well as perceived living conditions – including inequality, the feeling of safety, and the sense of insecurity – in divided societies are an important source of generalised trust long term. However, institutions can also easily destroy generalised trust in such societies if designed ineffectively and prove to be unfair and unequal. This chapter therefore concludes that equal and fair public institutions and services are crucial in maintaining a high level of generalised trust.

In Palestine, the ongoing political division between Fatah and Hamas has deteriorated the level of generalised trust. Based on the available data from 2007, 2011, 2014, and 2017 from the Arab Barometer, the level of generalised trust has dropped sharply. Relying on this data, this research examines in what way institutional and contextual factors affect the level of generalised trust in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Firstly, the chapter provides an historical background on the political division among the Palestinians, then it examines the current political division between Hamas and Fatah, and finally studies the institutional and contextual factors that affect the level of generalised trust.

In Syria, the impact of the Syria Civil War has had an impact on the level of trust among Syrians; inside and outside Syria. Feelings of insecurity and a lack of safety as well as the long political repression in Syria has led to a semi-sectarian civil war as a result of the policies practiced by the Syrian regime, which has resulted in low trust between Syrians too.

This book also examines the relationship between Syrian refugees and the Lebanon population in Lebanon. It suggests that distrust, which lead to social tension, between both populations is driven by the lack of clear administrative and bureaucratic mechanism that organise the presence of Syrians, media and political exploitation of the Syrian crisis by political elites.

This book concludes that institutions in divided societies play an important role in maintaining and even building social trust in the long run, but they can also be detrimental to the level of social trust in societies if designed ineffectively and are therefore proven to be unfair and unequal. The findings suggest that equal and fair public institutions are crucial to the social mechanism of trust.


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