MESA Banner
Strategies of Authoritarian Regimes

Session VI-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • In this paper, I offer the first systematic analysis of decisions made by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) in Turkey —the key state institution that monitors media contents, fines, and prisons individuals and agents when their expressions damage "public morality." Turkey offers a critical case to understand the regulations of morality for several reasons. Turkey's democracy has declined drastically since 2007, offering a critical case to explore how democratic backsliding occurs, affects different minority groups, and the opposition is marginalized. Turkey has been ruled by a populist, authoritarian pro-Islamic party, enabling us to question how religious parties use their political dominance through ostensibly innocuous mechanisms and institutions. By analyzing the RTUK's, decisions between 1994-2021 ( over 10,000 decisions), I explain why and how (i) the state uses its regulatory power for censorship, (ii) a pro-Islamic party manages the morality of the public space, and (iii) religious, sexual orientations and ethnic groups are marginalized under authoritarian regimes.
  • Scholars have long argued that democratic forces—electoral and interest group pressures—should lead to the adoption of social legislation entitling many social groups to welfare benefits. However, contrary to the theoretical expectations, authoritarian governments have pioneered social insurance legislation: more than two-thirds of laws regulating insurance against old age, sickness, disability, and unemployment have originated in authoritarian regimes and some of these laws have covered broad social and occupational groups. In the absence of electoral and interest group pressures then, what motivates some authoritarian regimes to promulgate comprehensive social legislation? To answer this question, I investigate the origins of social legislation in three authoritarian regimes—Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey. I argue that comprehensive social legislation originates from the presence of Integral Mass Parties (IMPs) during the foundational moments of authoritarian regimes. IMP’s presence generates two pathways to the promulgation of comprehensive social legislation: (1) When IMPs take over a regime after gaining independence, they seek to radically transform the societies they rule by injecting national identities into socially diverse societies, changing the power dynamics at the local level, and altering even the everyday life practices. These transformative goals require them to win the consent of the masses for their hegemonic projects which in turn pushes them to entitle diverse social groups to welfare benefits. (2) When IMPs do not govern but stand as contenders for power during foundational moments, they push the founding elites to incorporate mass actors into the governing coalitions which in turn leads to the enactment of comprehensive social legislation. To provide evidence for these arguments, my comparative historical analysis draws on extensive archival materials from the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Turkish national archives and covers the span of 1920-1975. Drawing an original database, I also test the implications of my arguments in the Middle East and North Africa region and show that IMPs pioneered the promulgation of comprehensive social programs and these programs have persisted over time.
  • Does democratization affect civil-military relations and increase the likelihood of coups? Does purging military officers from the government increase the likelihood of coups? Democratizing regimes strive to reduce the influence of the military over politics. Extant research looks at the structural ‘coup-proofing’ measures and institutional reform to explain coup risk. I contend that democratizing hybrid regimes who reduce power-sharing with the military risk to face two reverse outcomes: increased risk of coups and democratic backslide. Democratization allows the government to abandon power-sharing and purge military officers from the government and outright from the military. However, this creates a vacuum in which authoritarian leaders can easily backslide and adopt the co-optation of loyalists and coup-related repression, easing the authoritarian power-grab. I test this theory using several datasets including Colpus, Military Participation In Government Data, Military Purges in Dictatorships (MPD) dataset and a qualitative case study on Turkey using process tracing techniques between 2002-2017, and find support for the theory.
  • Existing scholarship often states that repression is politically costly for an authoritarian leader. Repression is believed to create strong negative emotions that motivate people to revolt. Yet, some leaders employ widespread repression while maintaining high levels of popular support. How is this possible? I argue that bystanders to repression (not the direct targets thereof) can support its use against groups they perceive as a threat to society. Drawing on novel data on protests and repression in Egypt, I investigate how repression affected citizen support for the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the 2013 coup. This paper aims to advance scholarship on repression by centering attention on how everyday citizens perceive state violence, while highlighting several policy implications for human rights.
  • This paper examines how the regime of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has sought to re-erect the façade of competitive politics in Egypt since the coup of July 3, 2013 and the collapse of relatively free electoral politics that followed the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Specifically, it examines the rise and evolution of regime-allied political parties, with a focus on the experience of Mustaqbal Watan. The paper situates the party’s origins in the regime’s struggle to manage its diverse set of political allies and contain conflict among them, especially in parliamentary life. It argues that the party’s development mirrors a process by which the ruling establishment has sought to forge a partnership between political and business families once allied with the Mubarak regime, intelligence agencies-tied interests, as well as coopted members of the youth movements that rose to the surface in the wake of Mubarak’s downfall. It shows how “youth empowerment” has provided a convenient framework for bringing these diverse interests together under a single organizational umbrella. Despite the growing profile and role of Mustaqbal Watan, the ability of the party to develop into a meaningful civilian ruling party akin to Mubarak’s NDP is limited by a number of factors. Notable among them is the prevalence of personalist and populist sensibilities in Sisi’s approach to governing, as well as the domineering role played by intelligence agencies in managing partisan politics. The paper’s findings inform broader theoretical discussions on the workings and limitations of state-managed political competition under military regimes.
  • Despite calls for analysis of how authoritarian regimes employ state structures to protect their rule and evidence that authoritarian regimes exhibit higher levels of religious regulation than democratic regimes, there has been strikingly little attention to the key state institution through which regimes manage religion: religion ministries. Religion ministries mediate between the state, political actors, religious actors, and society at large. Muslim-majority countries are more likely to have ministries of religious affairs than other countries. Regimes in the Middle East have expanded these ministries during the twenty-first century in the name of providing “spiritual security” to Muslim populations targeted by jihadist groups. In Arab monarchies, all of which have an Islamic identity, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs or a ministry of a similar name fulfills the majority of religious functions exercised by the state, such as regulating the fatwa or religious rulings by clerics (‘ulama); hiring, training and supervising imams and other lay religious leaders; managing religious endowments (waqf); managing pilgrimage (hajj) and collecting charity (zakat). Arab regimes’ behavior of expanding these ministries suggests that regimes perceive that they are reaping tangible benefits from their activities, but what these ministries achieve is not well understood. This paper responds to the question: what is the work that religion ministries do for the authoritarian state? Understanding why and how authoritarian regimes regulate religion is a step toward a stronger understanding of why states, whether authoritarian or democratic, use so many resources managing religious affairs while also contributing to our understanding of how authoritarian regimes make use of state resources to protect their rule. This paper assesses the work that religion ministries do on behalf of authoritarian regimes by analyzing three core functions of these ministries: repression, co-optation, and legitimation. We argue that by fulfilling these functions, religion ministries are not benign bureaucracies but impactful institutions that facilitate authoritarian persistence. Through an analysis of the religious bureaucracies of Morocco and Jordan, two authoritarian monarchies, we illustrate the intricate web of incentives that these regimes construct to discipline religion and non-state religious actors. We choose Jordan and Morocco for close study because unlike other Arab monarchies, which rely heavily on patronage funded by oil and natural gas, these regimes have to be more creative in how they manage opposition. In our conclusions, we lay out a research agenda for systematizing our understanding of the relationship between the bureaucratization of religion and democratization.