Drivers of Tolerance in Post-Arab Spring Egypt: Religious, Economic, or Government Endorsements?

Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-185NuDFdikNV6e/input 785995PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918785995Political Research QuarterlyHassan and Shalaby
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 293 –308
Drivers of Tolerance in Post-Arab
© 2018 University of Utah
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Spring Egypt: Religious, Economic,
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918785995
or Government Endorsements?
Mazen Hassan1 and Marwa Shalaby2 *
Previous work on political tolerance has overwhelmingly focused on established democracies. Consequently, our
knowledge continues to be limited with regard to the drivers of tolerance in less democratic transitional and
nondemocratic settings. In this paper, we examine what could best promote tolerance of least-favored political groups
in such contexts. We use a survey experiment in Egypt to test competing theories through exposing respondents
to different primes, emphasizing the importance of tolerance on the basis of religious, economic, or government
endorsements. Respondents were then asked questions to gauge their tolerance levels toward their least-favored
group. We control for the level of trust in government, religiosity, interpersonal trust, contact, and political knowledge.
Our data show soaring levels of intolerance among Egyptians. However, we found evidence that priming respondents
with the economic benefits of having a tolerant society is the most effective way to promote tolerant attitudes,
especially among those with lower levels of education and younger age groups. Additionally, our analysis demonstrated
that respondents’ level of trust in government has a strong effect on tolerance attitudes.
political tolerance, democratization, survey experiment, Middle East, Egypt
the majority of world countries (seventy-nine countries).
The second reason is that the dynamics of tolerance—in
Political tolerance, defined as the willingness to “put up”
terms of scale, drivers, and least-favored groups—are
with disliked groups to exercise their civil rights, is an
likely to be different in these understudied settings. The
essential component of democratic politics (Diamond
authoritarian history, low levels of political and economic
1994; Linz and Stepan 1996; Seligson 2000), and indeed of
development, and absence of politically inclusive dis-
any viable political system (Gibson 1996). Since Stouffer’s
course that characterize such countries make it more likely
(1955) seminal work, scholars continued to refine and
for political elites to engage in wars of political attrition
hone measures of tolerance (e.g., Gibson and Bingham
(Alesina and Drazen 1991) and for the masses to succumb
1982; Sullivan, Piereson, and Marcus 1979). Most studies,
to demands for political and social exclusion. Therefore,
however, have focused their attention on studying drivers
one of the pressing questions of political research is
of tolerance in established Western democracies where
whether creating tolerant societies within such regimes is
relatively high levels of civil liberties and freedoms already
attainable, and if so, under what conditions.
exist. Despite the invaluable contribution of these studies,
To bridge this gap, in this paper, we focus on examining
the overfocus on established democracies has resulted in
the drivers of tolerance attitudes in Egypt. We concentrate
what Geddes (1990) warned against as “selecting cases on
on Egypt for two reasons. First, following Mubarak’s
the dependent variable,” which in turn may lead to biased
departure, Egypt has had its share of political violence.
and distorted conclusions.
This lack of attention to studying tolerance in nondem-
ocratic and transitioning settings is unwarranted for two
1Cairo University, Giza, Egypt
reasons. First, the number of undemocratic and semidem-
2Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
ocratic regimes has risen significantly over the past
*Authors’ names are listed alphabetically.
decade. According to Freedom House, 2016 marks the
“10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom”
Corresponding Author:
Mazen Hassan, Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo
(Freedom House 2016). “Partly free” and “not free” coun-
University, Giza, 12613, Egypt.
tries are not only increasing in number but also make up

Political Research Quarterly 72(2)
Since 2011, deep ideological schisms have led to civil
There is ample evidence, however, that the dynamics
strife that has resulted in human, political and economic
of tolerance in established democracies are not necessar-
causalities with which the country is still struggling to
ily similar to those in nondemocratic and transitioning
cope. Second, the thorny issue of political reconciliation
settings (Guérini, Petry, and Crête, 2004), particularly
has been occasionally debated in Egypt since 2013, with,
after the ebb and flow of unsuccessful transitions take
however, no shortage of controversy. Whenever calls are
their toll. This is interesting theoretically because transi-
made for reconciliation with members of the Muslim
tions, at their core, promise better circumstances, both
Brotherhood (MB) or the Mubarak regime, for example,
politically and economically. When they fail to achieve
they face significant backlash from both sides of the divide.
progress, prejudices tend to emerge and blame games
We examined drivers of tolerance against this backdrop
dominate. The widening gaps between ideologically dif-
through conducting a survey experiment on a sample of
ferent groups encourage exclusionary discourse, feeding
1,800 adult Egyptians to test the impact of religious, eco-
into a cycle of intolerance, zero-sum political divisions,
nomic, and government endorsements on tolerance. Our
and possibly also political violence (van Dijk 1991,
purpose was to explore the conditions under which citizens
1993). Moreover, because of the soaring levels of uncer-
would be willing to extend certain political rights and lib-
tainty they entail, periods of change are also times of
erties to groups they identify as their least favored. We
deep political stress and social anxiety, which have both
found intriguing results on the priming effect of endorse-
been shown to contribute to high levels of intolerance
ments that stress the material benefits of tolerance.
(see Gibson and Gouws 2003).
The paper is divided into four subsequent sections.
In Egypt, post-2011 developments generated alarming
Section II presents the theoretical framework and the
levels of intolerance, perhaps across all political factions.
contribution of our work to relevant literature. Section III
Almost every group that has assumed power has tried to
explains the experimental design, and Section IV includes
exclude its political opponents. In 2011, the Supreme
the empirical analysis. Section V summarizes the main
Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled the coun-
findings and highlights the implications of our study.
try in the interim period after Mubarak’s overthrow, wel-
comed a court order to dissolve Mubarak’s former ruling
Drivers of Tolerance: Religious,
party, the National Democratic Party (NDP). Later that
Economic, or Government
year, it also sent strong signals to former Mubarak elites
not to contest the 2011–2012 parliamentary elections.
After a short honeymoon period with the revolutionary
Previous research on tolerance attitudes in democracies
youth movements, the SCAF started to defame them and
has looked at determinants of tolerance at the macro and
accuse them of being “agents of foreign powers.” A simi-
individual levels. Research emphasizing macro-level fac-
lar trajectory can be seen in the SCAF’s interactions with
tors has focused on democratic stability, federalism, and
the MB. Although in much of 2011, the SCAF-
ethnic heterogeneity (Peffley and Rohrschneider 2003).
Brotherhood relationship was mostly positive, when
Survey research, however, has been used to test tolerance
these dynamics changed SCAF was content to see the
mechanisms on the individual level and teased out some
Brotherhood’s primary candidate for the 2012 presiden-
interesting results. For instance, whereas an authoritarian
tial election disqualified from the race. Shortly before the
father–child relationship has been argued to culminate in
presidential election itself, the SCAF acted quickly to dis-
a disposition that depreciates the weak (Adorno et al.
solve the Brotherhood-dominated parliament on the basis
1950), education is thought to positively affect tolerance
of a Constitutional Court sentence.
through disseminating knowledge and information,
Under Mohamed Morsi’s rule, things did not look
thereby reducing prejudice (Stouffer 1955; Coenders and
much different, if not worse. A clause was added to the
Scheepers 2003). Contact with different groups, in turn,
then-new constitution to strip senior figures of the NDP
has been found to increase exposure to views different
of their political rights for ten years. The Brotherhood
from one’s own, helping individuals become aware of the
media machine publicly attacked journalists, judges, and
rationale of others (Mutz 2002; Pettigrew and Tropp
the liberal intelligentsia on the grounds of being either
2006). People who are more disposed to threat perception

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