A view of Tunis.

Business Influence on Democratization

In my dissertation, I theorize that pro-authoritarian coalitions are more successful at undermining transitional democracies when elites who make up the coalition are strongly unified around the goal of regime change as opposed to lesser political aims. In Tunisia, where I undertook field research for eight months, I found that there are plenty of elites who pine for a return to the days of the dictator Ben Ali, and that these elites even went so far as to form a political party, Nidaa Tounes, that obtained the greatest numbers of seats in Tunisia’s parliament in 2014. However, this party has failed in many of its anti-democratic aims, such as passing legislation granting amnesty to corrupt businessmen from the prior regime. By contrast, in Egypt, a pro-authoritarian coalition led by the military has brought about a stable and increasingly repressive dictatorship that has stamped out all dissent. I argue that in Egypt, the economic influence of the military helped keep potential rivals, namely powerful businesspeople, strictly in-line with the military-led coalition, securing a stable transition to dictatorship. Tunisia, by contrast, lacks such an actor capable of preventing elites from squabbling with each other and undermining the success of the pro-authoritarian Nidaa Tounes.

Based on my field research, I implemented an online survey targeted at businesspeople in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt with a sample of nearly 2,500 business managers and employees. I use an embedded experiment to see how party appeals to businesses, such as for protection from expropriation or for perks from government licenses and contracts, stimulate businesspeople to offer support to parties, such as electoral funding or instructing their employees to vote for a candidate. I find that firm’s incentives to engage politically vary on the firm’s market position, size and relationship vis-a-vis government agencies, but that political-economic institutions, especially the Egyptian military, have a pronounced effect on increasing business political engagement in the aggregate.

My work sheds light on the processes through which powerful elite coalitions are built during the chaotic periods of revolutions and democratic transitions. By so doing, I advance the field by pinpointing the conditions under which anti-democratic coalitions are successful, and when they are likely to fail and let democracy survive.

Link to online survey paper here.