Ongoing Book Project

Religious Cycles of Policy Responsiveness: How Religious Seasons Shape Public Opinion and Government Responsiveness in the Muslim World

Published Peer-Reviewed Articles

Mohamed, Ahmed Ezzeldin. “Turnout in Transitional Elections: Who votes in Iraq?.” The Journal of the Middle East and Africa 9.2 (2018): 153-171. Paper here.

Electoral turnout in Iraq is a puzzling phenomenon. Despite the country’s lack of a democratic past, undeveloped party system, volatile political alliances, inexperienced voters, ethnic politics, sectarian violence, and terrorism, Iraqis’ electoral engagement has reached impressive levels. Given the importance of political participation at the foundational stages of democracy, this article places the individual within a broad context to draw an image of the likely Iraqi voter using five nationally representative surveys covering the three Iraqi parliamentary elections of 2005, 2010, and 2014. The main findings indicate that the Iraqi voter is likely to be a middle-aged, educated male with interest in politics and trust in the political institutions. Surprisingly, the socioeconomic and ethnic identities of the voter are not related to that individual’s decision to participate. Provincial-level violence has a complex and unstable link to individual turnout, depending on its timing, scale, and frequency, but it does not hinder participation. These results challenge some of the common themes in the literature on Iraqi politics and democratization. With the alarming decline in the turnout rate of the 2018 elections, this study is a preliminary guide to understanding how to sustain citizens’ engagement in new democracies.

Mohamed, Ahmed Ezzeldin. “The Welfare State in Egypt, 1995-2005: A Comparative Approach.” AlMuntaqa (Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies) 1.1 (2018): 66-83. Paper here.

This article applies the typology of welfare state regimes developed by Esping-Andersen in 1990 to the welfare state in Egypt as an example of developing countries. The study surveys the relations between the state, the market, and society from 1995 to 2005, a period characterized by a shift towards a market-oriented economy, challenging the historical legacy of the state’s social role. The methodology employs a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis while examining the characteristics of seven main welfare schemes and social safety nets in Egypt. The findings suggest that the Egyptian current welfare state can be best described as “conservative/informal,” where social benefits are tied to employment in the formal sector, leading to the family, religious institutions, and clientelistic networks taking on important roles to meet the social needs of the larger informal sector. In addition, the study proposes amendments to the Esping-Andersen typology in order to better understand the welfare programs of developing countries. Mismanagement, quality considerations, the gap between stated goals and implementation, disparities created by gender and urbanization differences, and the role of informal sector should be systematically considered when analyzing welfare regimes in general, and those of developing countries in particular.

Working Papers

“Religious Cycles of Government Responsiveness: Why Governments Distribute in Ramadan”. Working Paper.*

In many Muslim societies, autocrats expand their distributive policies in the religious season of Ramadan. Why do autocrats distribute in Ramadan? And, who do they target? Focusing on Egypt (2014-2020), this paper argues that the regime distributes in Ramadan to contain political threats to its survival by co-opting areas where such threats are more credible. This strategy addresses rising political pressures during the season while signaling the regime’s competency and goodness by capitalizing on the month’s religious norms. I test this argument using an original municipality-level dataset of government-reported provision of economic benefits. The findings show that the government reports more economic distribution in places where political threats are higher: more socioeconomically developed, more contentious, and more affected by unpopular austerity measures. Using survey data, I also find that distribution in Ramadan translates into reputational gains for the regime, particularly among its critics. The conclusions suggest that autocrats might adopt multiple targeting strategies to respond to different threats to their survival, sometimes rewarding threatening groups to buy their acquiescence.

*Note: Paper available upon request.

“Trust Nobody: How Conspiracy Theories Can Distort Political Accountability”. Working paper. (with Giovanna Invernizzi). Revise and resubmit, Journal of Experimental Political Science.

With the advent of social media, conspiracy theories became integrated into salient political debates, yet the scope of their implications on citizens’ political behavior remains unclear. Using an online experiment among US subjects, we show that conspiracy theories decrease voters’ trust in political institutions, such as mainstream parties and courts, as well as information providers. Subjects were exposed to conspiracy theories that are completely unrelated to American domestic politics, which further underscores the danger of such narratives. Results, however, suggest that voters do not weigh unrelated conspiracies in their evaluation of politicians’ performance. Overall, our findings illustrate that an informational environment permeated by conspiracy theories could impede the functioning of democracy by eroding trust in its institutions, but that voters’ capacity to keep politicians accountable is resilient to unrelated information.

“Political Budget Cycles in Autocracies: The Role of Religious Seasons and Political Collective Action”. Revise and resubmit, Politics and Religion.*

For autocrats ruling over religious populations as in many Muslim majority countries, threats of mass collective action and religious mobilization are risky to ignore, being potentially detrimental to authoritarian survival. Religious seasons, such as Ramadan, could raise the seriousness of such threats. Accordingly, incumbents might adopt expansionary fiscal policies to avoid the escalation of political discontent at these times. Focusing on Egypt’s fiscal policy between 2006 and 2019, I find that although the religious season of Ramadan is associated with modest increases in government expenditure and welfare spending, this relationship is dependent on the level of political threats facing the regime. Government spending is higher in Ramadan’s season when it is preceded by more episodes of anti-regime collective action. This evidence suggests that the interaction between the religious and political contexts could generate political budget cycles outside electoral seasons.

*Note: Paper available upon request.

“From Religious Violence to Political Compromise: The Historical Determinants of Institutional Trust”. Working Paper. (with Isabela Mares)*

Winner of: MPSA 2019 Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for Best Paper in Comparative Politics, APSA 2020 Politics and History Section’s Award for best paper, APSA 2020 European Politics and Society Section’s Award for best paper.

This paper analyzes the long-term historical consequences of religious conflict that occurred during the period between the Augsburg Treaty (1555) and the Westphalian Peace (1648). We show that religiously divided communities that experienced the Catholic counter-reform faced relatively stronger demand for legal mechanisms of conflict resolution and developed distinct institutions of inter-religious mediation. We demonstrate that the creation of these institutions and the legalization of the religious conflict has a persistent effect to the present: citizens in localities that experienced counter-reform have a higher level of trust in political and legal institutions today. We also provide evidence that Protestant churches were an important vehicle for the transmission of institutional trust.

*Note: Paper available upon request.

“Official Islam: Why Do Governments Invest in Religious Education”. Working Paper. (with Allison Spencer Hartnett)*

Why do governments invest in religious education? Focusing on the recent expansion of governmental Qur’anic schools in Egypt, we argue that state-sponsored Qur’anic schools are more likely to be placed in districts with an established Muslim Brotherhood presence and high levels of competition between formal and informal providers of religious education. This is because governmental control of informal religious schooling at the local level allows the government to create new supporters and sway younger generations from the support of Islamist opposition. We test our argument using a novel dataset of Qur’anic religious schooling and the structure of local religious markets in Egypt, as well as contemporary survey data.

*Note: Paper available upon request.

“Economic Security and the Strength of Religious Cleavages”. Working Paper. (with John D. Huber)

Religious belief and church-attendance often go hand in hand, but the strength of the connection between these two dimensions of religiosity varies considerably across countries. By focusing on the strength of this connection, this paper challenges the entrenched idea that the politicization of religion in elections will decline as economic security increases. We provide evidence from established democracies that religious belief has the strongest connection to religious practice in societies where economic security is the highest. We also show that religious voting cleavages are strongest when there is a strong connection between religious belief and church attendance. This is true because strong beliefs are associated with distinctive policy preferences (but not with political engagement), and church attendance is associated with political engagement (but not, so much, with distinctive policy preferences). Thus, societies with high levels of economic security can facilitate the cohesion of religious groups associated with strong religious voting cleavages.

Policy Papers

Mohamed, Ahmed Ezzeldin. “Labor Productivity: Large vs. Small, Turkey vs. EU.”(2014). TUSIAD Competitiveness Forum Briefs. Paper here.

The paper examines the labor productivity gap between firms in Turkey and the European Union (EU) by comparing labor productivities of firms of different sizes. The gap between the labor productivity among large firms in Turkey and the average labor productivity of large firms in the new member states of the EU (called EU10) is quite small. By contrast, the labor productivity of the smallest group of firms in Turkey (those employing less than 20 employees) are less than one half as productive as the average productivity of the same size group in EU10. In addition, the share in employment of this group of firms in Turkey is higher than the average share in EU10.