Theme Panel: Novel Tools to Understanding Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa

Novel Tools to Understanding Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa

Full Paper Panel

(Discussant) Steven Brooke, University of Wisconsin- Madison; (Chair) Ellen M. Lust, University of Gothenburg

Session Description:
Our panel brings together researchers forging new approaches to studying the evolution of political institutions both in historical perspective and in this contemporary moment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Embracing varied theoretical paradigms and diverse methodologies, the papers showcase the broad range of tools available to researchers seeking to understand how key political divides emerged and calcified in the region and how institutions are rapidly developing in the present. The papers explore how pro-male bias in media coverage continues to create gendered disparities within Tunisia’s parliament, how Turkey’s autocracy has become more entrenched as a result of often-ignored local-level contention, how education infrastructure in Turkey may have deepened the Kurdish insurgency and how colonialism fundamentally shaped contention between a nascent rural bourgeoisie and entrenched agricultural elites. Collectively, the papers on this panel will animate a vibrant dialogue on how processes of colonialism & state-formation have shaped contemporary processes of political struggle and institutional development in the MENA region.


Media Coverage of Female Politicians in Tunisia
Monica Komer, University of Wisconsin—Madison

Over the last decade, women’s political representation has nearly doubled in the Arab world. However, little is known about how female politicians are portrayed in local news media. Focusing on popular print news outlets in Tunisia, we offer one of the first large-scale content analyses of gender differences in news coverage of elected politicians in the region. We focus on news reports of politicians elected in Tunisia’s 2014 parliamentary elections, where women secured roughly 30 percent of seats. Our results show disparities in both the amount and type of media coverage afforded to male and female parliamentarians. We situate these results within a broader discussion of women’s actual behavior in parliament and the media’s role in shaping perceptions of female leaders in the region.

Rural Intra-Elite Conflict, Colonization and Demands for Power-Sharing
Allison Spencer Hartnett, University of Southern California

We study how the rising economic power of a disenfranchised elite can increase its demand for de facto power-sharing in autocracies, and how the distribution of de jure political power may be altered by colonial rule. We draw on evidence from Khedival Egypt to argue that rural social conflicts can also lead to meaningful demands for power-sharing in agrarian autocracies. Like many cases in the Global South, Egypt’s modern economic development was tied to agricultural commodity booms driven by a globalizing economy and industrial demand from the Global North. This changing rural economy shifted power relations between incumbent agricultural elites and the rising rural bourgeoisie, particularly with regard to control over agricultural labor. We argue that acute social conflicts over rural labor – particularly in agriculturally productive localities – resulted in more rural bourgeoisie demands for de facto power-sharing in formal political institutions in the precolonial period. Colonization may subsequently suppress the representation of the rising elites in its quest for political stability. In our analysis, we employ a wide range of novel data sources on Members of Parliament (MPs) in 1824–1923, parliamentary minutes from 1868–1882, and 19th century Egyptian census data on labor coercion. We qualitatively document the rise in rural bourgeoisie demands for power-sharing within the parliament prior to the occupation. We then show quantitatively that the distribution of political power was fundamentally altered by colonial changes to the legislature after the British occupation of 1882.

How Assimilative School Education Affects Insurgency in Areas of Ethnic Conflict
Asli Cansunar, University of Washington; Tugba Bozcaga, King’s College London

Education is a public service, assumed to be highly valued by citizens, allowing politicians to use it to reward their co-ethnics. However, nation-states have also used education to create loyal citizens. When states seek to nation-build by blurring ethnic and religious divisions, primary schools constitute a powerful institution through which governments can apply significant pressure on minorities to learn the dominant group’s language or adopt their religious beliefs, thus promoting a state-sponsored ideal of national identity. On the one hand, to the extent it decreases social inequalities along class lines, educational investments in ethnic minority areas may serve to reduce the grievances of minority groups and reduce the probability of ethnic insurgency. On the other hand, particularly centralized education based on national curricula in the majority group’s language —commonly used by nation-states to create a national identity and assimilate ethnoreligious minorities—may create a backlash effect and facilitate ethnic insurgency. This project will investigate the conditions under which assimilatory national public investments in ethnic minority areas induce violence. To examine this question, we leverage the spatial and temporal variations in education infrastructure and insurgent recruitment through a difference-in-differences design, focusing on the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. The data employed in this project includes an original longitudinal dataset on village-level education infrastructure, an original dataset on the ethnoreligious distribution of over 30,000 villages in Turkey, and a dataset that provides information on insurgents’ birthplace.

Competing at the Root: Local Contention and Politics in Hybrid Regimes
Huseyin Emre Ceyhun, Princeton University; Hani Warith

How do local-level dynamics affect the trajectory of competitive authoritarian and other hybrid regimes? The literature on competitive authoritarianism has decisively established the ways in which incumbent leaders within such regimes have strategized to undermine democracy. In contrast, there are few theoretical tools and sparse empirical evidence on the impacts of local officials on the trajectories of hybrid regimes. We argue that mayors play a critical role in shaping Turkey’s regime, showing that supply-side dynamics, mainly AKP mayors’ motivation for seeking higher office and political conflict between the AKP and their rivals, create incentives for local level actors to transform Turkey’s associational landscape. Employing municipality-level evidence, we show that a dogged competition between the Justice and Development Party (the AKP) mayors and their political rivals has transformed the associational landscape in Turkey. Leveraging a regression discontinuity design, we analyze close elections and show that religious associations proliferate in the wake of AKP victories. When the Republican People’s Party (the CHP), the main secular opposition party, manage to capture office, we observe a growth in business and commercial associations. In contrast, we find limited evidence on demand-based explanations. Supplementing our main results with interviews and descriptive statistics based on legislative data, we illustrate the importance of these local level changes to the dynamics of the AKP regime more broadly.

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