Publications

"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)

Under Review

"'NETWORKED' Revolutions?: ICTs and protest mobilization in autocratic regimes"

Although a wealth of research has linked the growth of internet-based communication technologies (ICTs) with the rise of anti-government demonstrations in autocracies, empirical evidence on the impact of ICTs on protest remains inconclusive. In this article, I provide a more systematic test of the relationship between ICT use and protest in autocracies, using new data from a cross-national survey of political behavior in the Arab World. I find that although internet use helps to explain protest participation, organizational networks are also important for mobilizing protesters, even in the digital age. Notably, I find that membership in instrumental associations (i.e. those that focus on communal objectives) significantly increases the likelihood of individual protest participation, providing members with the skills necessary for political engagement and essential connections to a sustained flow of information about protest events. Moreover, I find significant interactive effects between organizational membership and ICT use -- while the combination of high-frequency internet use and voluntary association membership generally increases one's propensity to protest, the effects of joining an organization differ noticeably between high- and low-frequency internet users. This work thus illuminates a potential symbiosis between online and offline communities that has largely been overlooked in previous studies of political mobilization and forces a reconsideration of the ways in which civil society organizations work to mobilize contention under authoritarian rule. 

 

"The dynamics of pro-state mobilization: insights from egypt" (with Melani Cammett)

On February 2, 2011, pro-regime loyalists swept into Tahrir Square in Central Cairo to attack protesters calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. During the attacks, government-hired thugs rode horses and camels through the protest camp assaulting protesters with whips and other weapons. The event, which came to be known as the "Battle of the Camel", is a violent example of regime-orchestrated contentious action. In this paper we explore the dynamics of such pro-state mobilization (PSM), which we define as collective action to support or defend an established political order and its associated body of elites against actual or perceived challenges from below. In the paper, we ask, "Under what conditions do regimes and their allies organize contentious actions in support of the state?" and outline a set of tentative hypotheses drawing from the extant literature on authoritarian survival and counter-mobilization. Testing these hypotheses using an original dataset of protest mobilization under multiple regimes in Egypt, we find that PSM is largely a reactive response used by elites to counteract episodes of contention that involve significant crowds or attract the engagement of established social movements. Moreover our analysis suggests that hegemonic party systems and hybrid regimes may be more likely to employ PSM as a counter-mobilization tactic, which points to a potential divergence in preferred strategies of social control across regime types. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of broadening our conceptualization of contentious politics to include state-mobilized contention, and invites new research agendas which consider the ways in which various strategies of autocratic survival -- including repression, concessions, election, and pro-state mobilization -- interact to produce authoritarian resilience in the face of opposition. 

Working Papers

"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 and Morocco, ultimately determining the tenor and success of opposition in these cases. Moreover, using evidence from interviews with labor leaders, politicians, and government officials, I illustrate how the selection of these modes of mobilization rose as a strategic response to differing configurations of state-labor relations in these countries. Specifically, I argue that where unions enjoy closed linkages with partisan elites and maintain undemocratic governance structures, organized labor is more likely to undertake limited efforts at mobilization, as union leaders use their power in the political and labor arenas to restrain rank-and-file militancy and channel worker demands into accepted institutional structures. By contrast, when unions lack partisan alliances and establish internally democratic structures that encourage responsiveness to the rank-and-file, direct political mobilization by organized labor is more likely to result. 

 

"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. 

 

"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 uncover the determinants of Islamist party success. Using original data which tracks the electoral performance of Islamic political parties from 1968 to 2014, I find that the best predictor of Islamist failure and success in electoral contests is their policy performance, and more specifically, their ability to noticeably improve economic conditions and social welfare in newly democratic societies. In making this argument, I draw upon the concept of "performance legitimacy", that is, the ability of the newly elected government to accomplish concrete policy goals such as economic growth, reduction of inequality, and social development. I argue that Islamist success in "breakthrough" elections stems from their perceptions as disciplined parties which can redress the economic failings of the former regime and improve social welfare for the masses. Where parties live up to these expectations, they continue to succeed despite their ideological leanings; where they do not, they lose electoral strength.