Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

MES Doctoral Student Kim Guiler Wins Boren Fellowship for International Study

Iraqi Journalists Meet with Arabic Summer Institute Students

The Department of Middle Eastern Studies is proud to announce that graduate student Kim Guiler has received a Boren Fellowship to conduct research in Turkey this October. We asked Kim a few questions about her award and her plans for research while abroad.  

Could you explain to us your dissertation proposal? Do you have a working title and what does your dissertation entail?

The working title of my dissertation is "Trusting the Faithful: Why Mainstream Voters Elect Islamists." I am interested in the reasons why Islamist movements came to power in countries where they have been repressed and institutionally marginalized. Moreover, it is interesting to me that Islamist movements came to power in countries that are as politically, economically, institutionally, and socially diverse as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Palestine. Islamists have represented the largest political bloc in constitutional monarchies such as Morocco and Kuwait, in republics such as Tunisia and Egypt, in countries outside the Middle East such as Indonesia, in countries such as Turkey with a GDP per capita as large as $19,080 (PPP, 2013), and in regions such as the Palestinian Territories with a GDP per capita as small as $2,465 (PPP, last recorded in 2005). Islamist parties have even won local and national representation in non-Muslim majority countries such as Israel.  

A key question driving my research is why secular populations and ethnic groups that would not normally define themselves as Islamists have voted for Islamist parties in recent nominally free elections (2011 and 2012 in Egypt, 2011 in Tunisia, and 2002, 2007, 2011 in Turkey). During my fieldwork, I will employ statistical analysis of election outcomes, interviews, and survey experiments to study voting behavior in these countries.

What first got you interested in your dissertation topic? 

I first became interested in my dissertation topic when I was living in Turkey in 2009-2011. I noticed that many of my secular and Kurdish friends had voted and intended to continue voting for the AKP (Justice and Development Party) despite the fact that a plurality of them disagreed with the conservative direction of the party and some of them perceived that there was declining press freedom and freedom of speech in Turkey under the AKP government. Some voted for the AKP because they felt the party had and would continue to improve the economy. Others, who were members of minority groups, felt that the AKP--which was marginalized itself under former secular governments--was more likely than other alternatives to champion minority issues. Following the Arab Spring when the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al-Nahda in Tunisia--both of which have connections to the AKP in Turkey-- came to power, I began to realize that the phenomenon of Islamist success I was observing in Turkey was part of a broader phenomenon. I became curious as to how these movements have succeeded in such different countries and circumstances. I also became interested in the varying longevity of these movements as successful political parties. (In other words, how can we understand the vast differences in the longevity of the AKP in Turkey, which as been in power for more than a decade, verses the Muslim Brotherhood, which was quickly overthrown?)

What will your travels to Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey look like? How will you go about conducting your research while you are there?

My fieldwork will commence in October of this year, when I will travel to Turkey on a Boren Fellowship. My initial research in Turkey will involve targeted interviews with a large-N, representative sample of Turkish voters. This research will enable me to better understand Turkish voting behavior, and to test questions for latter use in national-level surveys with a random sample of voters. Additionally these interviews will allow me to test some of the wording I intend to use in later survey experiments. During my time on the Boren Fellowship, I will also be working with a team of researchers to conduct public opinion surveys prior to and following the 2015 Turkish parliamentary elections. The results of these surveys will also inform my later survey experiments in both Turkey and Tunisia. I am currently applying for funding to travel to Tunisia for the second round of my fieldwork, which is scheduled to begin in late 2015. During my time in Tunisia, I also hope to make research trips to Egypt to the extent that the political situation allows.

Why Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey specifically?

These are three countries where Islamist movements have been politically and institutionally marginalized and where a significant segment of the population does not identify as Islamist. Yet, in each of these three cases increasingly democratic elections have brought Islamist parties to power. What explains this puzzling outcome?  

What do you hope your research will add to our further understanding of this area?

Beyond this project’s theoretical contributions to the literature on Islamist movements and opposition movements more generally, my focus on the sources of Islamist electoral success is very relevant to contemporary political developments in the Middle East. The aftermath of the Arab Spring, which initially not only brought political Islam to power in Egypt and Tunisia but also strengthened political Islam in Morocco and Kuwait, ultimately led to the violent overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and the recent resignation of Tunisia’s Islamist prime minister. My project will enable academics, policy makers, and government workers to better understand these varied transitions. 

In addition to explaining the variations in political power of Islamist movements in the Middle East, my project will advance a more complete understanding of Islamist movements by drawing attention to their varied sources of political support. The AKP, Al-Nahda and the Muslim Brotherhood, far from radical fringe groups, are parties that gained (and in Turkey continue to gain) votes from secular and liberal constituencies who trust them to produce competent policies and implement them cleanly. Furthermore, Islamist movements that win competitive elections are held accountable by their constituencies. My project draws attention to the consequences Islamist parties face when they fail to produce inclusive and representative policies in the early years of their rule. 

Lastly, is there anything interesting that you're particularly looking forward to with your travels?

My husband Joe and I actually met in Turkey in 2010, and we are really looking forward to returning together! It will be wonderful and exciting to visit our close friends in Ankara and Istanbul, and to make new friends and memories in the country. Additionally, I am very excited to return to the Middle East as a speaker of Arabic. I believe that my recent studies in Arabic at UT Austin will greatly enhance my research, and will enable me to build new friendships and to learn more about daily life and culture in Egypt and Tunisia.

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