"the 2014 tunisian election - more than a secular-islamist divide", Centerpiece, Vol. 29, No.1  (non peer reviewed)

The completion of Tunisia's second democratic election on October 26, 2014 marked a watershed moment in the history of Middle Eastern politics. Amidst a litany of Arab Spring "failures", the execution of free and fair election, and particularly the victory of the secular let over Islamist incumbents has lead many to laud Tunisia's progress in consolidating the region's first true democracy. Yet despite scholarly praise, this article cautions the wave of enthusiasm engendered by Tunisia's recent electoral results. In particular, I argue that the binary depiction of the election as a triumph of secularism over political Islam provides a false picture of voter preference in post-authoritarian elections. More than ideology, I find that what matters most to voters in democratic elections is the ability of the newly elected government to accomplish concrete policy goals such as economic growth, reduction of inequality, and social development (i.e. to establish performance legitimacy) -- a feature to which neither secular Nidaa Tounes or Islamist Ennahda can currently lay claim. This article, then, tempers scholarly enthusiasm over Tunisia's democratic prospects, instead advocating for a more nuanced understanding of party politics and voter concerns as necessary to understand the nascent regime's chances for long-term success.  (Link)

Working Papers

"Where do we go from here?: Islamist electoral trajectories in liberalized regimes"

How do Islamist parties fare when allowed to compete in electoral contests? Although Islamic movements have participated in over one-third of competitive parliamentary elections since 1968, little is known about the fate of these parties, particularly following their first electoral success. Given the increased participation of Islamist parties in the Middle East following the 2011 Arab spring, it is important to inquire how these once-outlawed parties adapt to electoral competition and to uncover the various trajectories they follow after engaging in institutionalized politics. In fact, despite claims of an “Islamist political advantage”, I find extreme diversity in the electoral trajectories of Islamist parties who repeatedly participate in competitive elections -- while some parties like the AKP continuously dominate democratic elections, others struggle to reclaim initial electoral success, while still others suffer from violent overthrow and removal from the political system.

In view of this heterogeneity, this article seeks to delineate the various electoral trajectories of Islamist political movements. Using original data which tracks the electoral performance of Islamic political parties from 1968 to 2014, I find that successful Islamist parties are often those with moderate political ideologies who, in the first four years of participation in the national legislature, significantly improve economic and social conditions. Thus our research confirms aspects of the moderation-inclusion hypothesis while debunking many of the claims of the “Islamist political advantage” literature. Indeed, rather than religious ideology, we find that voters -- and particularly those in new democracies -- are primarily concerned with economic performance, giving significant electoral advantage to those parties (Islamist or otherwise) who can effectively ameliorate economic crises and reduce social inequality.

"Going Political?: Authoritarian Institutions, Labor, and Political Mobilization in the Middle East/North Africa"

Why, in authoritarian settings, do some unions choose to engage in politically motivated protests while others do not? Drawing on an original dataset of labor protest, this paper attempts to explain this puzzling heterogeneity from an institutional perspective. Using evidence from thirteen Middle Eastern countries over the period 1980-2011, I test the relative impact of institutions against competing explanations for labor behavior which focus on the effects of repression, grievances, and material inducements in affecting patterns of labor mobilization. Challenging the conventional assumption that labor opposition is contingent upon the material benefits received by trade unions, I highlight the impact that institutions, particularly those which structure labor organization and its relationship with the state, have on union decisions to express political demands. Specifically, I find that two key features of labor’s institutional environment —the extent of labor incorporation and union alliances with political parties— are critical variables that affect union’s decision to participate in political protest. Taken together, I argue that these variables capture both the the willingness and capacity of unions to engage in political opposition against authoritarian rulers, thereby providing a fuller account of divergence in protest patterns within autocratic states. 

"The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted: Adding Collective Actors to Collective Outcomes in the Arab Spring"

In academic and journalistic scholarship, the Arab Spring protests have been generally portrayed as "spontaneous" mobilizations facilitated by social media outlets. Yet despite the hegemonic nature of this characterization, empirical evidence casts doubt on the plausibility of social media explanations and necessitates  a re-evaluation of the factors and actors that drove opposition mobilization in the Middle East. In this piece, I highlight the efforts of one such actor, the labor movement, in organizing protest and sustaining anti-regime opposition. Illustrating the two main paths of labor mobilization: direct opposition through street protest and limited mobilization through regime negotiation, I argue that labor participation was critical to the strength of the protest movement in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, and eventually determined the tenor and success of opposition in these cases.