Drivers of Tolerance in Transitioning Democracies: Rational, Elitist, or Religious?

By Marwa Shalaby, Mazen Hassan,
Submitted to Session P4806 (The Dynamics of Tolerance in the Contemporary Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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Political tolerance, or the willingness to “put up” with disliked groups exercising their civil rights, is an essential component not only of democratic politics (Dahl 1970; 1989; Diamond 1994, 1999; Linz and Stepan 1996; Seligson 2000), but of any viable political system regardless of its level of democracy (Lipset 1993; Gibson 1996). By contrast, the story of many Arab societies since 2011 is one of intolerance, prejudices and conflicts along ideological and sectarian lines. What started as sporadic incidents of violence during mass demonstrations against authoritarian rulers evolved into systemic political violence, terrorist attacks, and civil wars. Hence, one of the pressing questions of political research is whether creating tolerant societies in this part of the world is attainable and under what conditions.

In this paper, we aim to examine what could best promote tolerance toward least-favored political groups in transitioning societies. Former studies have overwhelmingly focused on the determinants of tolerance in democratic and developing democracies in different parts of the world, however, our knowledge remains limited in regard to the dynamics of (in)tolerance under authoritarian and transitioning political regimes in the Middle East. While our previous work (author citation 2016) has analyzed the drivers of tolerance under failed transition, focusing on the case of Egypt, we aim in this paper to better understand the underlying mechanisms of tolerance in countries that have undergone successful transitions. Tunisia is a particularly valuable case study for this purpose, given its history as a tolerant, modernizing, and secular state since independence. Using a randomized, population-based survey experiment in Tunisia, we test three main competing arguments through exposing respondents to different primes, emphasizing the importance of tolerance on the basis of religious, economic, or government endorsements. Respondents are then asked questions that gauge their tolerance levels toward their least-favored group (mainly Islamists, Salafists, remnants of the former regime). We also control for the level of trust in government, religiosity, interpersonal trust, contact, and political knowledge. Our results will allow us to better understand the micro-level dynamics of political tolerance in transitioning societies.