"Social Failures, State Responsibility: Everyday Discourse in Egypt’s Sexual Harassment Panic"
For more than a decade, Egyptian society has been gripped by a moral panic related to the country’s epidemic rates of sexual harassment (taḥarrush). Local and international actors have latched on to the issue, promoting a range of solutions: new policing programs were launched by the state, a range of NGOs turned their attention to harassment, and new anti-harassment groups were created. Scholars have critiqued NGO and Egyptian regime interventions for, in the classic pattern of the moral panic (Cohen 1972), scapegoating young, low-income men as a justification to expand the state’s policing powers (e.g. Amar 2011, 2013; Enloe 2013). In this paper, I draw on quotidian discourses surrounding harassment in Cairo to argue that ordinary Egyptians – far from being taken in by regime attempts to scapegoat the young and the poor – consistently figure harassment as evidence of the regime’s failure to provide a just life for its citizens.
"Threat Ecologies and Authoritarian Onset," with Dan Slater.
Threat perceptions are rightly recognized as powerful drivers of political development. The difficulty of observing and theorizing individual cognitive processes, however, can bedevil attempts to analyze such perceptions’ causal effects. In the first half of this paper, we propose a framework for analyzing threat perceptions that sidesteps this methodological problem and better captures the most important feature of threat perceptions in political development: their role in coalition-building. We argue that, in order to be politically relevant and systematically theorizable, threats need to be collectively experienced. Scholars must therefore go beyond asking when rulers tremble, and ask when and why coalitions assemble. Shared threat perceptions – unlike their individual counterparts – are legible to scholars, inscribed in what we term a “threat ecology,” or the inherited stock of experiences and interpretations that help communities assess, prioritize, and respond to threats. Threat ecologies and their logical implications for politics can be identified a priori, facilitating the generation of falsifiable theories about a wide array of political outcomes. To illustrate the explanatory value of our approach, we use it to develop a novel theory of authoritarian onset in the second half of our paper. We argue that the seeds of robust new authoritarian regimes are sown when broad social coalitions come together to counter threats perceived as unmanageable under pluralistic conditions. When diverse social groups perceive that a pressing threat cannot be managed without restrictions on elections, speech, or assembly, such groups become especially likely to support an authoritarian intervention spearheaded by an institution perceived as comparatively unthreatening.
"State Power and Staying Power: Infrastructural Mechanisms and Authoritarian Durability," with Dan Slater.
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The contemporary literature on authoritarian durability focuses more on democratic-looking institutions such as parties, elections and parliaments than the institution in which authoritarian regimes are most importantly embedded: the state itself. This article argues that state power is the most powerful weapon in the authoritarian arsenal. After clarifying the regime-state distinction and explaining why regime durability involves more than just duration, we discuss four “infrastructural mechanisms” through which authoritarian regimes stabilize and sustain their rule: (1) coercing rivals, (2) extracting revenues, (3) registering citizens and (4) cultivating dependence. Since state apparatuses are the institutions best geared for performing these tasks, their effectiveness underpins authoritarian durability in a way that no other institution can duplicate. And since state power is shaped by long-term historical forces, future studies should adopt the kind of historical perspective more often seen in leading studies of postcolonial economic development than of authoritarian durability.