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How are harmful social practices brought to an end? Female genital cutting (FGC) is extremely common among ever-married women in Egypt, but the practice has declined among younger women and girls. While much of the recent literature on abatement of FGC has focused on individual-level determinants of a mother's choice to circumcise her daughters, we focus on meso-level factors, particularly norm change within religious communities and attitude formation within families. We find differential FGC trends across Muslim and Coptic Christian communities as well as an effect of the gender of a woman's first-born child—an exogenous variable in Egypt where pre-natal sex selection is rare—on attitudes toward FGC. The effect of the first-born gender varies by religion and birth cohort, however, suggesting ways in which meso-level factors interact to impact women's attitudes and associated FGC outcomes.
Scholars have long argued that leaders manipulate foreign policy, sometimes even initiating wars in order to enhance their domestic political position. But diversionary wars are relatively rare given the high costs of conflict. In this project, we examine data from major Syrian daily newspapers over a 30-year period (1987–2018) to explore how autocratic regimes use diversionary rhetoric. We find that before the 2011 Arab Uprisings, Syria's state-controlled media concentrated on Israel as a security and political threat. Emphasis on Israel as a diversionary threat decreased during peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, probably in a bid to prepare the Syrian public for normalization of bilateral relations. After 2011, scrutiny of Israel—and other long-standing topics of state discourse—was displaced by discussion of foreign plots and conspiracies against the Syrian state. Our analysis illustrates how authoritarian regimes make use of diversionary strategies as well as how political shocks generate discontinuities in authoritarian rhetoric.
Scholars have long sought to understand when and why the Middle East fell behind Europe in its economic development. This article explores the importance of historical Muslim trade in explaining urban growth and decline in the run-up to the Industrial Revolution. The authors examine Eurasian urbanization patterns as a function of distance to Middle Eastern trade routes before and after 1500 CE – the turning point in European breakthroughs in seafaring, trade and exploration. The results suggest that proximity to historical Muslim trade routes was positively associated with urbanization in 1200 but not in 1800. These findings speak to why Middle Eastern and Central Asian cities – which had long benefited from their central location between Europe and Asia – declined as Europeans found alternative routes to the East and opened trade opportunities in the New World.
Using data from the World Values Survey, we analyze the extent to which value consensus exists within countries. To do this, we introduce a statistical model which allows us to generate country-level measures of cultural heterogeneity. Our statistical approach models each country as a mixture of subcultures that are shared across the world. Our results demonstrate that value consensus varies substantially across countries and regions.
Holy Land Crusades were among the most significant forms of military mobilization to occur during the medieval period. Crusader mobilization had important implications for European state formation. We find that areas with large numbers of Holy Land crusaders witnessed increased political stability and institutional development as well as greater urbanization associated with rising trade and capital accumulation, even after taking into account underlying levels of religiosity and economic development. Our findings contribute to a scholarly debate regarding when the essential elements of the modern state first began to appear. Although our causal mechanisms—which focus on the importance of war preparation and urban capital accumulation—resemble those emphasized by previous research, we date the point of critical transition to statehood centuries earlier, in line with scholars who emphasize the medieval origins of the modern state. We also point to one avenue by which the rise of Muslim military and political power may have affected European institutional development.
We document a divergence in the duration of rule for monarchs in Western Europe and the Islamic world beginning in the medieval period. While leadership tenures in the two regions were similar in the 8th century, Christian kings became increasingly long lived compared to Muslim sultans. We argue that forms of executive constraint that emerged under feudal institutions in Western Europe were associated with increased political stability and find empirical support for this argument. While feudal institutions served as the basis for military recruitment by European monarchs, Muslim sultans relied on mamlukism—or the use of military slaves imported from non-Muslim lands. Dependence on mamluk armies limited the bargaining strength of local notables vis-à-vis the sultan, hindering the development of a productively adversarial relationship between ruler and local elites. We argue that Muslim societies’ reliance on mamluks, rather than local elites, as the basis for military leadership, may explain why the Glorious Revolution occurred in England, not Egypt.
While public opinion research has expanded rapidly in the Islamic world since 2001, little scholarly work has examined interviewer effects related to an enumerator's religious adherence. We find that the perceived religiosity of an interviewer impacts respondents' expressions of personal piety and adherence to Islamic cultural norms in a sample of approximately 1,200 women in Greater Cairo. Muslim women indicate that they are more religious and adherent to Islamic cultural norms when interviewed by an enumerator donning the Islamic headscarf. Conversely, members of Egypt's minority Coptic Christian community report that they are less adherent to Christianity when interviewed by a veiled enumerator. Through psychological processes of strategic self-presentation of identity and impression management, the veil may trigger Muslim respondents to express what they perceive to be socially desirable (i.e., more devout) responses; in contemporary Egypt, being perceived as pious may elicit social and economic benefits. Christians appear to deemphasize their religious identity to avoid appearing at odds with the dominant, Muslim majority to which the enumerator appears to belong. Younger, poorer and less educated women — who may be most susceptible to concerns about social desirability — show the largest effects.
The battle for public opinion in the Islamic world is an ongoing priority for U.S. diplomacy. The current debate over why many Muslims hold anti-American views revolves around whether they dislike fundamental aspects of American culture and government, or what Americans do in international affairs. We argue, instead, that Muslim anti-Americanism is predominantly a domestic, elite-led phenomenon that intensifies when there is greater competition between Islamist and secular-nationalist political factions within a country. Although more observant Muslims tend to be more anti-American, paradoxically the most anti-American countries are those in which Muslim populations are less religious overall, and thus more divided on the religious–secular issue dimension. We provide case study evidence consistent with this explanation, as well as a multilevel statistical analysis of public opinion data from nearly 13,000 Muslim respondents in 21 countries.
Do authoritarian regimes manipulate fiscal and monetary policy in the runup to elections? Whereas most of the academic literature on electoral budget cycles has focused on democratic countries (with mixed empirical results), researchers are now turning their attention to the existence of electoral budget cycles in autocratic countries, whose highly centralized processes for economic policy making and fewer independent economic institutions make them prime candidates to exhibit such patterns. This chapter investigates the existence of opportunistic electoral budget cycles in Egypt. Although most research on electoral budget cycles focuses exclusively on econometric analysis of economic data, this chapter also includes a detailed discussion of the specific mechanisms used by the regime to court citizens. This information reveals particular patterns and strategies for orchestrating economic incentives.
In Egypt, the main budgetary manipulations take place to benefit state employees, farmers, and the urban poor. These preelectoral economic changes provide small improvements in salaries and services to a fairly broad swath of the populace to create the impression of gradual improvement in economic conditions for these beneficiaries. From an econometric perspective, Egypt's electoral budget cycle is apparent in five areas: a) inflation is higher in election years, b) calorie consumption is higher in election years, c) total reserves drop in the six months prior to the election, d) claims against the government increase following elections, and e) exchange rate devaluations tend to take place after elections.
The Mubarak regime in Egypt is just one of many authoritarian regimes that holds some form of competitive elections. In this chapter, I explore how competitive elections function in a broader set of Arab cases. I find that there exist four primary types of electoral–institutional arrangements across the authoritarian states of the Arab world: a) hegemonic party regimes with high levels of political contestation, b) constitutional monarchies with high levels of contestation, c) single-party regimes with limited electoral competition, and d) non-constitutional monarchies with low levels of electoral contestation. In terms of the distributive implications of electoral competition, there are a number of similarities between hegemonic party regimes with high levels of contestation – such as Egypt – and constitutional monarchies with political contestation. These similarities exist to a lesser extent in single-party regimes with limited contestation. The goal of this chapter is not to undertake an exhaustive review of other regimes but rather to demonstrate that patterns in the development of authoritarian institutions in Egypt are also found in a wider set of cases.
A primary argument of this project is that electoral competition, even in an authoritarian context, is meaningful for the way that it mediates several types of elite conflict and informs patterns of distribution. Based on these ideas, where and when could we expect to see competitive authoritarian elections emerging in countries of the Arab Middle East?
Why do political entrepreneurs run for parliamentary seats when parliament has almost no influence over policy? Aside from the prestige associated with holding public office, a parliamentary seat offers innumerable opportunities. Serving in parliament can act as a stepping stone to cabinet positions or promotions within the party. But to what end? Ultimately, policy decisions are made at the top, so for those interested in policy change, this is an ineffective route to political influence.
It is common knowledge, however, that holding office can personally enrich an individual, both in developed and developing countries, and that rent seeking (and seizing) can serve as significant motivation to compete for political office. In this chapter, I make three points about rent seeking and the electoral connection in Egypt. First, I argue that Egyptian legislators enjoy a myriad of licit and illicit money-making opportunities. Perhaps most important among these involve laws and norms establishing unusually high guarantees of parliamentary immunity. Although the formal institution of parliamentary immunity – or the granting of protection from prosecution for their actions as parliamentarians – has historically been used to protect legislators from civil actions for libel or defamation, some countries have developed informal norms that allow parliamentarians to engage in corrupt and illegal activities with impunity. In Egypt, a desire to enjoy the benefits of parliamentary immunity, or rather the norms that have come to be associated with immunity, has become a major motivation for legislative office seeking in Egypt.
Despite its authoritarian political structure, Egypt's government has held competitive, multi-party parliamentary elections for more than 30 years. This book argues that, rather than undermining the durability of the Mubarak regime, competitive parliamentary elections ease important forms of distributional conflict, particularly conflict over access to spoils. In a comprehensive examination of the distributive consequences of authoritarian elections in Egypt, Lisa Blaydes examines the triadic relationship between Egypt's ruling regime, the rent-seeking elite that supports the regime, and the ordinary citizens who participate in these elections. She describes why parliamentary candidates finance campaigns to win seats in a legislature that lacks policymaking power, as well as why citizens engage in the costly act of voting in such a context.
In the course of my fieldwork in Egypt, I once directly asked an official affiliated with the NDP why the regime in Egypt continued to hold competitive parliamentary elections given the political risks. Political violence remains a common feature of parliamentary elections, and the regime not infrequently is required to perpetuate fraud and repression to quell the success of Islamist candidates. The party official responded that elections give the regime a new lease on life. Elections, it seems, are a key to the regime's very survival, and a counterfactual claim implicit to this project is that, absent these elections, the regime would not be so durable.
This book has sought to more fully articulate the specific ways in which elections contribute to the durability of the authoritarian regime in Egypt. Whereas existing explanations for the persistence of authoritarianism have described autocracy as an historic by-product of Egypt's natural environment or an outgrowth of the country's religious or cultural tradition, this project instead builds on a growing literature that considers the institutional basis for autocratic persistence in Egypt with a particular focus on how competitive multiparty elections have stabilized aspects of rule under Hosni Mubarak. Although it has been argued that elections inflame state–society tension in authoritarian regimes, this project has found that elections help to solve certain types of problems, particularly problems related to the distribution of scarce resources.
The existence of electoral competition, at times fierce and expensive, seems paradoxical in an authoritarian context, where the selection of regime leadership has already been made. Yet nearly all autocrats hold some form of elections, and hegemonic party regimes – such as the one in Egypt – represent one of the most common forms of dictatorship in the world (Magaloni 2006). This book seeks to unravel a series of interrelated puzzles about elections in Egypt: In what ways does the authoritarian regime benefit from holding elections? Why do candidates spend scarce resources to run for a seat in a parliament that does not make policy? Why do citizens engage in the costly act of voting in such a context? And do we observe patterns of economic change surrounding autocratic elections that resemble the trends observed in democracies? The answers to these questions are critical to understanding the mechanics of authoritarian survival, both in Egypt and elsewhere. I argue that the authoritarian regime in Egypt has endured not despite competitive elections, but, to some degree, because of these elections.
A number of themes run throughout this project. The first is that the authoritarian regime in Egypt has made increasing use of competitive, market-style mechanisms to mediate political relationships over time. Second, economic change and a generalized withdrawal of the Egyptian state from its hegemonic economic role in society have both had an impact on the nature of relations among the regime, elite, and citizenry.