5 Political Scientists on the Crisis in Egypt: Consequentialism over Idealism

In the aftermath of the July 3rd military intervention that removed the elected Islamist government from power, the political crisis in Egypt shows no signs of abating. The events which led to the second military intervention to oust a civilian government in just two years is the culmination of a severely flawed process of political transition which utterly failed to account for the consequences of an idealistic and misguided rush to electoral politics. The reason, it appears, is the persistent inability to understand the strategic dynamics of political transitions and the continuing insistence on courses of development grounded in a “logic of appropriateness” that seems to equate electoral institutions with democracy. While this is a continuing fault of policymakers and activists, the academic record is somewhat stronger on this ground, despite the fact that it is largely ignored. While structural theories of democratization continue to be the vogue for the international community, it is the process-based accounts of democratization, emphasizing strategic choice, that provide the keys to understanding the failure of Egypt’s political transition of the past two years.

In 1999, Robert Bates remarked:

A major reason for the relatively democratic outcomes [in Southern Africa] is that the new regimes left the former repressors in possession of a political hostage; the private economy… Should the [retreating] tyrant and his followers own industries or banks, should they control capital, physical or financial, should they, in short, possess economic power, then those seeking their political surrender should respect their rights (1999, 83-4).

Bates’ comment, which forms the core of his explanation for successful democratization in South Africa and Namibia, constitutes an argument that successful transitions cannot lead to the replacement of one ruling group with another, for democracies are never born of revolution, but rather that successful transitions must seek to incorporate elements of the old regime into the new. This argument is also made by Adam Przeworksi in his strategic-choice account of democratization, Democracy and the Market (1991). Przeworksi’s account of transitions identifies splits within two opposing camps and predicts that successful democratic transitions are born of alliances between reformers within the old regime and moderates within the opposition, against their hardliner and radical counterparts. In both formulations, democracy is impossible without participation of the old regime.

In the Egyptian transition, this did not happen. The coalition underpinning the old regime, a combination of military and commercial power, fractured in February 2011. As a result, the military overthrew the civilian commercial elite and extended their hand to the opposition. However, the second stage of the transition caused the collapse of the process. The opposition insisted on the punishment and marginalization of the old regime, and increasingly after the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory, the moderate opposition. While in revolutionary contexts, such as Iran in 1979, moderates find themselves without an ally owing to revolutionary bloodshed, Egypt experienced little revolutionary violence; the military continued to play a dominant role as powerbroker and members of the old regime retained their economic “hostages;” Egypt did not experience a true revolution. Two years later, facing a similarly intransigent challenge from the Brotherhood, “Reformers” and “Moderates,” the groups responsible for the ousting of Mubarak, united once again to oust a hardline regime that was as authoritarian in tendency as that of Mubarak.

If Egypt is to successfully complete its transition towards a more democratic form of rule, the Muslim Brotherhood, as Przeworksi’s “Radicals,” can have no leading position carrying the state forward. This is where the conclusions of Przeworksi clash with the liberal ideals of international democracy activists arguing for a greater role for all Egyptians in the path forward. As Przeworksi argues, democratization is possible only if “(1) an agreement can be reached between Reformers and Moderates to establish institutions under which the social forces they represent would have significant political presence in the democratic system, (2) Reformers can deliver the consent of the Hardliners or neutralize them, and (3) Moderates can control the Radicals” (1991, 68). In the Egyptian context, only condition (2) was fulfilled. Rather than tread carefully to ensure equitable representation and guarantees for vulnerable groups and to protect a centrist “core,” impatience both within the Egyptian secular opposition along with international observers (especially in the United States) led to an emphasis on a rush towards participation before the scope and terms of contestation had been decided upon. The “Radicals,” representing a more unified bloc than the disorganized “Moderates,” gained control of the process and progressively sidelines moderates, manipulated electoral rules, and mounted an attack on a judiciary which largely carried over from the old regime. This attempt at consolidating power was doomed from the outset. Participation was opened before the basic institutional infrastructure of the system could be determined, and an under-informed electorate was pressured to support a constitution that was ill suited for the promotion of meaningful democratic politics. Constitutions should not be selected through majoritarian politics.

Such an observation dovetails nicely with the core arguments of Robert Dahl (1971) and Samuel Huntington (1968), both of whom argued that institutions of contestation must precede the expansion of participation. Such a trajectory of political development characterizes early democracies, such as Britain and the United States, along with certain colonies, most notably Mauritius, and even such repressive regimes as South Africa. In fact, in 1984, Huntington, in a rare moment of forward-looking insight, predicted that South Africa was on a path towards democratization. In 1999, Bates’ remarks validated this observation. By gradually expanding participation, newcomers to the system, “invaders” in the parlance of evolutionary game theory, cannot destabilize the system due to their small numbers in an already consolidated system. Instead, they must accommodate to the equilibria already specified by the system in place. By collaborating with remnants of the old regime, coalitions of compromise were required and radical politics eschewed.

What does this imply for Egypt? First, Przeworski and Bates both explain the trajectory of Egyptian political development from February 2011 through July 2013. The failure of the “Moderate”-“Reformer” alliance took the form of demonstrations against military rule and the demand to turn politics over to the opposition before the constitution was written led to the emergence of “democracy without guarantees” and an attempt to monopolize the system by the radicals. In turn, this attempt threatened the power and privilege of the military and the economically powerful remnants of the old regime. In response, these remnants (Ar: fulul) manipulated the economy and eventually intervened outright to depose the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this leaves Egypt in much the same position it was in two years ago, with a military regime facing a decision about where to go next. The solution being pushed by many in the liberal camp would entail an essential repetition of the process which failed previously. Perhaps the Brotherhood has learned its hard lesson, but I suspect their reaction to a second chance would be an attempt to cut a narrow deal with the military at the expense of the rest of the population. An Islamist-dominated process in Egypt, because of its polarizing tendencies, is doomed to authoritarianism.

If Egypt decides to follow the policy prescriptions stemming from the conclusions of Huntington, Dahl, Przeworski, and Bates, then Egypt’s future would entail a strongly managed transition negotiated by leaders of the moderate opposition and the military. They would decide on the ultimate form of the state and write a constitution that would establish the institutions necessary to ensure such a state, and then would impose it on the rest of society. Elections would only be held after the imposition of a new constitution. Entry into the system would be somewhat guarded so that no group could enter the system and undermine it from within, leading to the prohibition on participation of some forces, notably the Brotherhood, during the transition. This is not to say that individual members of the Brotherhood should be barred from participation, which would push them towards renewed radicalism, but rather that the organization must be politically demobilized and individuals remobilized in other frameworks specified by a new constitution. One solution would be a constitutional clause mandating separation of religion and the state (Turkey), another would be a ban on religious parties, which is currently being considered by the interim administration. The remnants of the old regime would have to be integrated into the new state and their basic privileges protected alongside new rights and protections for groups composing the moderate opposition. Finally, the new process must guarantee the rights of individuals rather than groups.

Such a prescription is not a panacea, and it will undoubtedly be received with discomfort, if not outright revulsion, by pro-democracy activists and policymakers. In fact, outspoken voices across the globe have been advocating precisely the opposite, demanding the reincorporation of the Muslim Brotherhood! Moreover, the violence that has gripped Egypt in recent days has gravely damaged the cohesion of a moderate coalition and increased moderate sympathy for radical positions, once again polarizing Egyptian politics. Furthermore, it has lent credence to a false narrative that equates Mursi supporters with pro-democracy activism, leading liberals to support the continuation of a process which has done nothing but undermine political liberalization in Egypt. While this violent repression has served little constructive purpose, the alternatives being advocated, ranging from the reinstatement of Mursi to reconciliation and reincorporation of the Brotherhood, will not put the country on track to democracy. The only solution is to begin again with closer attention to the possible consequences of constitutional decisions and recognition that constitutions reflect the interests of their writers.

The consequences of the rush to elections and universal inclusion have made themselves felt in Egypt and beyond. Similar transitions are in danger in Libya and Tunisia. Unlike the others, however, in Egypt the military is ideally situated to manage a transition to political democracy due to its corporate identity, cohesion, and general dislike of civilian politics. While they would be, as Barbara Geddes argues in her analysis of authoritarian breakdowns (2004), the most suited force to lead a state to democracy, the generals must not succumb to the pressure of idealists to exit politics until a new system is in place, as this would be just as damaging as a decision to remain in politics in the long term. Simultaneously, they must not antagonize those inclined to support their intervention by continuing their offensive against Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations. For as the continuing stalemate, marked by mutual recriminations, reveals, the Egyptian state cannot get on without the military in an active stewardship role in the short term, even if they cannot prosper under military rule in the long term.

Forecasting and Ethics, Ctd.

A few additional thoughts (original thoughts here) inspired by posts on Duck of Minerva and Dart-Throwing Chimp.

First, I just want to agree wholeheartedly with Jay Ulfelder’s conclusion on Dart-Throwing Chimp:

Look, these decisions are going to be made whether or not we produce statistical forecasts, and when they are made, they will be informed by many things, of which forecasts—statistical or otherwise—will be only one. That doesn’t relieve the forecaster of ethical responsibility for the potential consequences of his or her work. It just means that the forecaster doesn’t have a unique obligation in this regard. In fact, if anything, I would think we have an ethical obligation to help make those forecasts as accurate as we can in order to reduce as much as we can the uncertainty about this one small piece of the decision process. It’s a policymaker’s job to confront these kinds of decisions, and their choices are going to be informed by expectations about the probability of various alternative futures. Given that fact, wouldn’t we rather those expectations be as well informed as possible?

And I just want to underscore something that Daniel Nexon on the Duck referred to as the peformativity problem, referencing some interesting work in economics. I do agree that an interesting intellectual question is if political scientists ever get good at forecasting–a big ifand those forecasts do generate policy interventions, then the forecasts might become self-defeating or self-fulfilling. The goal is for them to become self-defeating, but one could imagine the opposite: military intervention or aid could destabilize a perilous society or warnings of risk could lead to better data collection which could lead to categorization of a problem as being more serious than in an area without warning. Either self-defeating or self-fulfilling predictions present a host of empirical problems. It’s worth a longer discussion, but I think it’s worth starting the discussion. My hunch is political science is shifting methodologically to a fight between the forecasters (probably bolstered by big data) and the causal inferencers. The issues associated with causal inference have been fleshed out in some detail, but the issues associated with forecasting are still relatively unexplored. Let’s start exploring.

Forecasting and Ethics

Idean Salehyean has a provocative post over at the Monkey Cage arguing that forecasting is not a value neutral enterprise. If we forecast some outcome, we should expect policymakers to take some steps as a result, and those steps may or may not be acceptable ethically. Okay. But not forecasting may or may not be acceptable ethically either. I’m a bit of an ethics novice, so I assume people are coming at morals from either some consequentialist or deontological frame. It’s difficult for me to see how forecasting is directly a rights or rules violation, so we’re automatically in some realm of consequentialism when we are worried about forecasting. And once we are down that path, we have to explicitly consider the counterfactual of not forecasting. And not forecasting when one has some ability to do so might lead to bad moral outcomes.

We probably aren’t in the business of chaining Nate Silver, Andrew Gelman, and Gary King to their desks to forecast genocide even if it would achieve salutary consequences (probably for good deontological reasons about letting people make choices about their lives). But I think Idean Salehyean’s point ends up being a banal one because more or less everything we do is not value neutral.

Nothing is special about forecasting, I would stress. Observational studies—the democratic peace, for instance—might lead one to conclude that democracy should be spread, by force if need be.

We are inhabitants of the world. We happen not to be particularly influential inhabitants so the chain of causation from our studies to positive and negative consequences is lengthy. We shouldn’t be paralyzed or fascinated by our presence in the moral universe.

Women and IR Blogs: Equally Likely to Blog, Less Likely to Study IR

By Suparna Chaudhry and William Nomikos

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara Walter and Taylor Marvin over at Political Violence @ a Glance asked why so few women in IR blog. They offered four potential explanations for the dearth of women in this part of the blogosphere: a lack of tenured women employed by elite research universities, imbalances in invitations to participate in blogs, outright sexism as a deterrent to blogging, and, finally, a low willingness of women to participate in blogs. At the Smoke-Filled Room, 3 out of our 12 bloggers are women or, looking solely at those who have IR as a concentration, 2 out of 9. Neither figure reflects equality in any real sense and so, given our existence as an exclusively graduate student blog, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mechanisms Walter and Marvin offer. Ultimately, we suggest that the lack of female bloggers in IR and, in particular, female graduate student bloggers, is a direct result of extreme gender imbalances that exist within graduate political science departments where two-thirds of students studying International Relations are male and only one-third is female.

In a related post, Jeremy Pressman asks whether the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs might just be a reflection of students in top PhD programs. To see if the paucity of female bloggers in international politics is just a reflection of the low number of women studying these topics in the top PhD programs, we looked at the distribution of women studying international relations and comparative politics across 17 schools (Top 20 schools selected non-randomly). Though the initial post did raise a question about the paucity of women specifically in IR, a look at some of the prominent blogs in the field such as The Monkey Cage, Duck of Minerva & Political Violence @ a Glance shows that posts are often made by comparativists as well.

Proportion of Each Gender by Subfield

Figure 1: Proportion of men and women studying International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Science in Top 20 Political Science Departments.

As Figure 1 shows, there is no paucity of women studying comparative politics. In fact, across the 14 schools that listed subfield interests for their doctoral students women have virtually equal representation (about 47%). Data from International Relations paint an entirely different picture. Only 33% of IR graduate students at these 14 schools are women. These numbers are especially stark compared to the gender balance across subfields. As we can see, women remain underrepresented in graduate programs in political science (39%) but much of this is due to one subfield—International Relations (American Politics is about equal; Political Economy, Methodology, and Political Theory are all skewed somewhat toward men).

Histogram of Proportion of Women Studying IR

Figure 2: A histogram of the distribution of the proportion of women studying International Relations at Top 20 Political Science departments.

Digging deeper, we can see from Figure 2 that only 2 schools have more women than men studying IR. And only 4 out of the 14 have at least 40% women. By contrast, 13 out of the 14 have at least 40% men studying IR. Clearly, a serious imbalance exists, which, in turn might lead to fewer women—in graduate school and in academia more broadly—blogging.

But, might it be the case instead that women are simply more reticent to post on and join blogs? This could be due to various potential causal mechanisms. First, foreign female students may not feel as comfortable voicing their opinions, especially if English is not their first language. However, since foreign male students are likely to face a similar language barrier, it may be the case that different cultures prescribe different norms of behavior, in particular with regard to the role of women in public and political life. It is perhaps the interaction between cultural differences and gender differences that makes international women more hesitant to blog. Second, looking beyond foreign students, it is also possible that women’s reticence to post, regardless of the geographical location of their prior education, could also have something to do with their classroom experiences, something that we are unable to capture just by looking at the distribution of women in PhD programs.

Relatedly, might IR blogs simply post about topics that women do not study? A 2006 TRIP survey of 1,112 IR faculty throughout the United States revealed certain dissimilarities between men and women in their status in the profession, approaches to teaching and scholarship, “Women study substantively different issue areas. Higher percentages of female than male faculty study international organization (+6%), international political economy (+3%), international law (+2%), the environment (+2%) and human rights (+1%). Higher percentages of men, in contrast, study U.S. foreign policy (+13%), international security (+6%), IR theory (+2%), and comparative foreign policy (+1%). These findings are consistent with evidence from the broader field of political science. The APSA divisions with the lowest female representation include international security and arms control, international collaboration, foreign policy, conflict processes, and international history and politics (Gruberg 2007). Indeed, fewer women are found in the field of IR than in American and comparative politics (Sedowski and Brintall 2007).” If our blogs are actually focusing more on such topics, then it is possible that some women may feel deterred to post about topics such as international organizations, law and so on, for fear that it may not generate enough interest. This perception could also be related to what is considered as “popular” or prominent in mainstream media, which tends to focus more on security and conflict-related topics, rather than topics related to international and non-governmental organizations and political economy.

Furthermore, Walter and Marvin, using the experience of Political Violence @ a Glance, suggest that it might be the case that fewer women are asked to join blogs. While this might be the case (the invitation process at the Smoke-Filled Room was similarly uneven), it seems more likely that this might also simply be a product of the imbalance that already exists. Additionally, as a blog, the Smoke-Filled Room has not faced any sexist attacks. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that these attacks occur and may serve as a deterrent for women. At this time, however, we are hesitant to draw any conclusions about how this could affect membership of our blog specifically and IR blogs more generally.

Nonetheless, we find little evidence that women are less likely than men to blog. Admittedly, the aforementioned factors, which might deter women from blogging, might reinforce the difficulties caused by the paucity of women in graduate programs but we doubt that these factors alone have pushed women out of the blogosphere. Let’s hypothesize that women and men are equally likely to blog. Let’s also posit an alternative hypothesis that men are more likely than women to blog. Given the structure of graduate departments, what is the probability that the Smoke-Filled Room would select 3 or fewer women out of 12 bloggers (or 2 out of 9 IR bloggers)? Given this probability, how confident do we feel in rejecting the null hypothesis that women and men are equally likely to blog? A very low probability (p<0.05, by convention) would suggest that it is unlikely that women joined the Smoke-Filled Room at such a low rate by chance.

To calculate this, we ran 10,000 simulated draws of bloggers from a pool of the 17 graduate schools for which we collected data. In 24% of these draws did the Smoke-Filled Room select 3 or fewer female bloggers (see Figure 3). When we restricted the sample to simply IR students (data from 14 schools), we found that in 40% of the draws, the Smoke-Filled Room selected 2 or fewer female IR bloggers (see Figure 4). We would not reject the null in either case at traditional levels. Therefore, we cannot conclude from the small number of female bloggers at the Smoke-Filled Room that women are less likely than men to blog. The reason is, quite simply, that the distribution of women in graduate programs and, in particular in IR, is so skewed toward men that it is difficult to find enough women to join blogs. The simulations reflect this fact as well. In fact, in a staggering 87% of the simulations, the Smoke-Filled Room selected more male than female IR bloggers.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (Full Sample)

Figure 3: Histogram of simulations of draws from all Political Science students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (IR only)

Figure 4: Histogram of simulations of draws from only International Relations students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Thus, the evidence suggests that women are not less likely to blog than men are. These findings align with our own experiences at the Smoke-Filled Room where our female bloggers, though fewer in number, have been just as active as our male bloggers. Indeed, the blogging process, even within International Relations, does not seem to be inherently flawed and sexist. Yet, as Walter and Marvin correctly point out, women do blog in smaller numbers than men do. Why? Our data gathered from Top 20 Political Science departments revealed a tremendous gender imbalance among PhD students of International Relations–33% are women, 67% are men. As our statistical analyses imply, the biggest problem appears to be structural gender imbalances within PhD programs. As we write, it is possible that issues such as women’s reticence to post, sexism on the Internet, the nature of topics discussed on IR blogs, and a smaller proportion of invitations going out to women could potentially reinforce the effect of structural imbalances, resulting in so few female bloggers. Nonetheless, the heart of the issue is analytical prior to the blogosphere and lies with the existing structures of graduate departments around the country. If we wish to foster a more equal blogging community in International Relations, it is there we should begin.

The authors would like to thank Guadalupe Tunon and Niloufer Siddiqui for their help with this post. You can follow Suparna on Twitter here and William here.

What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading

  • One of the most high-profile and devastating attacks by Indian Maoists occurred on the 25th of May, killing and injuring many Congress leaders, including the founder of Salwa Judum, a pro-government paramilitary force that fast gained notoriety for its abuses against civilians. Tusha Mittal at Tehelka highlights the ruthlessness of this militia after her trek into Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, the states which contain the heartland of the insurgency.
  • A Pakistani version of TV series Glee will hit local TV channels in the fall. “Like its smash hit forerunner, ‘Taan’ follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.” Plotlines include “love affairs between two men and between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl.”
  • There’s a lot of work on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. Probably less work on wife-swapping and combat effectiveness. Some in the Indian Navy may be exploring the topic.
  • Poverty ex machina? “A typical poor person is poor not because he is irresponsible, but because he was born in Africa.”
  • And, on the same topic, Matt Yglesias details the results of an experiment run by Chris Blattman, Nathan Fiala and Sebastian Martinez in Uganda. “Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying the groundwork for growth to come.”
  • Cass Sunstein describes the biggest Supreme Court decision you haven’t heard of, which increases executive power and the power and strength of Obamacare.
  • Is the Syrian Civil War the Spanish Civil War of our time? Harvey Morris examines the historical dangers of intervention and non-intervention in civil wars. The critical part of the analogy is whether the non-influence of Western democracies opens up room for the influence of other parties. It remains to be seen whether anyone is as interested in Syria as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were in Spain but some elements, namely Iran’s continued support of the Assad regime and Turkish and Saudi support of more extreme parts of the opposition, demand at least some consideration for the analogy. In any case, I doubt J.K. Rowling will be going to fight against tyranny in Syria.