Political and Economic Understandings of Democracy in the Middle East

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This dissertation addresses the paradox of high public support for democracy in one of the least democratic regions of the world, the Middle East/North Africa. It proposes that the cross-national surveys used to identify this democracy paradox contribute to the apparent misalignment of public opinion and political structure. While in most regions of the world the public’s understanding of the word democracy accords with political scientists’ procedural understanding – people conceive of democracy as a system of competitive elections and civil liberties – this does not bear out in the Middle East. Roughly half of MENA residents conceive of dimuqratiyya as a set of economic outcomes, rather than political processes. Thus, these surveys introduce translation bias; the researchers are measuring support for this plurally-defined construct, rather than a known entity. Using original surveys in Egypt and Morocco, it finds that citizens with different views of dimuqratiyya evince different levels of support for an elections-based system of government. Chapter 1 lays out the methodological challenge posed by discrepancies among researchers and citizens in understanding dimuqratiyya. Chapter 2 focuses on the typology of democrats. Using regression analyses, it examines what citizen characteristics predict a politicist or economicist understanding of dimuqratiyya. The third chapter considers the relationship between citizens understanding of dimuqratiyya and believing electing government is the best method of choosing government, believing that elections are appropriate for their country, and commitment to choosing the government by election to the exclusion of undemocratic alternatives. It shows that politicists are more likely to endorse an elections-based system of government than citizens who hold an economic view of dimuqratiyya. The final empirical chapter focuses on a conjoint analysis of hypothetical government features, including elections, barriers to political participation, unemployment rate, welfare policy, and role for religion and religious leaders in government. On the whole, Egyptians and Moroccans favor multiparty elections, low unemployment, and a state that keeps religious leaders out of government while maintaining an official religion. Politicists and economicists, however, place different weight on the ability to participate in government, the economic outputs it generates, and the religious character of the regime. These findings suggest that the abundance of economicists in the Middle East/North Africa represents a potential wellspring of authoritarian persistence. Not only are the economic deliverables on which they focus providable by authoritarians, who could then create a false narrative of democratic success, but they are less committed to the central procedural features of democratic governance: elections. This dissertation contributes both to our understanding of the democracy paradox and authoritarian persistence in the Middle East.





Ridge, Hannah (2021). Political and Economic Understandings of Democracy in the Middle East. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23062.


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