Selected Publications

On this page, I provide abstracts and links to select scientific papers. If you can’t access the document because of a paywall, please reach out to me.

Accepted or Published

Mobilizing the Masses: Measuring Resource Mobilization on Twitter [Sociological Method & Research; with Semuhi Sinanoglu & Mohamed Abdalla; Open Access available here]

How can we measure the resource mobilization efforts of social movements on Twitter? In this paper, we create the first ever measure of social movements’ resource mobilization efforts on a social media platform. To this aim, we create a four-conditional lexicon that can parse through tweets and identify those concerned with resource mobilization. We also create a simple resource mobilization (RM) score that can be plotted in a time series format to track the resource mobilization efforts of social movements in real time. We use our tools with millions of tweets from the United States of America streamed between Nov. 28th, 2018 and Feb. 11th, 2019 to demonstrate how our measure can help us estimate the saliency and persistency of social movements’ resource mobilization efforts. We find that our measure captures resource mobilization by successfully cross checking the variation of this score against protest events in the USA during the same timeframe. Finally, we illustrate the descriptive and qualitative utility of our tools for understanding social movements by running conventional topic modeling algorithms on the tweets that were used to compute the RM score, and point at specific avenues for theory building and testing.

Determinants of Arab Public Opinion on the Caliphate [Middle Eastern Studies available here]

What are the determinants of public opinion on the issue of the Caliphate in the Arab world? My answer to this question outlines the key role played by Islamist elites, religiosity and age in influencing Arab opinion on the issue of the Caliphate in three countries during the early Age of Islamism (1980s–1990s). I do so by using Binary Logistic Regression Models on observations that I found in survey data collected in 1988 in Egypt and Kuwait, and an Ordinal Logistic Regression Model for data collected in Palestine in 1995. My results suggest that elites play a key role in spreading Islamist ideas in Egypt and Palestine, while age and religiosity are most salient in Kuwait.

Political Culture in the Islamic World: The Socioeconomic Roots of the Islamic Leviathan [Comparative Sociology available here]

In this paper, I explore how the overall condition of a society affects public opinions on an Islamic Leviathan as an appropriate political system in the Middle East. I ask the following: In the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), what influences political attitudes toward the Islamic Leviathan? To answer this question, I look at the influence of seven independent variables on attitudes toward the Islamic Leviathan as a state system. The seven variables are (1) society’s overall development, (2) the socioeconomic class of respondents, (3) society’s corruption, (4) religiosity, (5) education, (6) gender, and (7) age. I find the observations needed to assess my theory in the Carnegie Middle East Governance and Islam Dataset 1988-2014 (CMEGID), which includes 15,194 relevant observations throughout the MENA region. My findings show that societies’ overall development has the most influence over Arab attitudes toward the Islamic Leviathan as an appropriate state system.

Framing Political Islam: Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood & the Syrian Uprising of 2011 [American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences available here]

What aspects of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s (a.k.a. the Ikhwan) cultural/ideological framing contributed to its failure to gather opponents of the Assad regime around its leadership during the 2011uprising? What does this reveal about why some Islamist political parties failed in situations of high political contention, such as the Syrian civil war? I argue that despite considerable evolution in the Syrian Brotherhood’s cultural/ideological framing since its first uprising (1977-82), it failed to target three crucial aspects of the 2011 uprising: the military struggle, the masses, and the religious minorities. I argue that these three crucial aspects undermined the Ikhwan’s efforts and illustrate how poor cultural/ideological framing can doom even those Islamist political parties with the strongest resource mobilization capacities and previously unmatched situations of political opportunity structures.

Working Papers

Curbing Xenophobia? Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown Measures on Anti-Refugee Sentiment in Turkey [with Semuhi Sinanoglu & Amine Aboussalah ]

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact sentiment towards refugees? If meaningful contact between host and refugee communities is required to nurture sympathy towards refugees, how did the movement restrictions shift sentiments towards refugees? To that aim, we investigate the effect of physical isolation on sentiments towards refugees in Turkey by using a novel dataset. We use Google Mobility Reports’ measurements of movement and sentiments towards refugees using 7,988 refugee-related tweets collected between February 15 and August 31 2020. Descriptive analysis shows that xenophobic sentiment decreased somewhat during the pandemic (from March 2020) compared to the previous month. Our study shows that four types of reduced mobility correlate with increased sympathy toward refugees: the more people stay at home, the more positive sentiment toward refugees they exhibit on Twitter. Our findings imply that the heart doesn’t grieve over what the eye doesn’t see. We conclude by proposing possible causal mechanisms for these surprising findings.

When Social Mobility is not an Option: How the Kafala System Encourages Anti-Immigrant Sentiment [with Nicholas A.R. Fraser & Ahmed Khattab ]

Existing studies argue that anti-immigrant sentiment stems from natives perception of immigrants as threats to their economic and/or socio-cultural status. Yet, conventional theoretical approaches cannot explain hostility toward immigrants in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where low-skilled foreign workers occupy an inferior social and legal status vis-a-vis natives under the kafala system. Drawing on recent studies of immigration politics beyond the developed world, we theorize how immigration policies can either facilitate or prevent the social mobility of foreign workers. We argue that extreme rights-restricting immigration policies (such as the kafala system) encourage wealthier natives to be more xenophobic than their lower-class counterparts. Supported by a series of multi-level models and a dataset that matches the World Values Survey conducted in 14 MENA countries with societal-level variables, our study suggests that xenophobia is context-specific and influenced by local institutions.

More Pressing Matters: Can Priority Reorientation Beat Online Misinformation?

When can misinformation fail to become viral, and what does this tell us about the things we can do to defeat it? Today, misinformation on social media is a serious problem. Much has been written about misinformation achieving virality, but few explore situations where it fails to become viral to learn from what can defeat it. Here, I argue that intrusive policies can yield substantial priority reorientations that help defeat persistent attempts at making misinformation viral. To test my argument, I design a lexicon that helps me collect posts spreading misinformation about refugees on Facebook across 133 countries from January 2020 to April 2021. I combine these posts with daily measures for the stringency of government policies aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic for this same timeframe. Results show that implementing intrusive policies against the pandemic help reorient priorities worldwide and yield a net decrease in the virality of misinformation about refugees. These results have important implications for policymakers, engineers of social media algorithms, and IGO/NGO workers who work on fact checking and fight misinformation.

The Material Curse to Political Acumen: Socioeconomic Development, Political Sophistication & Islamist Partisans in Imperfect Democracies

Why do political parties in imperfect democracies succeed in influencing the political views of some of their partisans but fail with others? Built on advanced industrial democracies, the conventional wisdom holds that sophistication affects opinion formation in partisan publics. But few studies have looked at opinion formation in partisan publics outside of advanced industrial democracies—like imperfect democracies—where it may be affected by other factors. In this chapter, I formalize a curvilinear, dynamic model of adoption/rejection of elite directed opinion formation in imperfect democracies and explain that it is completely reversed by socioeconomic development. That is, I argue, because the quality of political sophistication in imperfect democracies is a function of material ecological conditions. I test my argument using survey data collected by three waves of the Arab barometer between 2010 and 2016, spanning thousands of observations from dozens of imperfect democracies in the Arab world. My findings show that socioeconomic development reverses the correlation between political awareness and the adoption or rejection of party cues in Islamist publics. This suggests that socioeconomic development also matters for the emergence of a mass public that can critically engage with nascent democratic politics in the developing world.

Colonial Specters of Modernization Theory: The Effect of Colonization on the Secularization of the Middle East & North Africa

Why do modernization theories succeed in predicting patterns of secularization in some societies but fail in others? What is the effect of colonialism on secularization? In this paper, I argue that colonialism yields a cultural trauma against the precepts of traditional modernization programs whichpushes indigenous upper classes to seek an artificial re-indigenization of their culture in the postcolonial era. Because of this cultural trauma and subsequent re-indigenization, the relationship between individual material conditions and secularization predicted by modernization theories would tend to be broken in postcolonial societies. In fact, this relationship would only hold in societies that were never colonized because their indigenous upper classes collude with imperialist powers to cement their authoritarian regimes. In most cases, they even use colonial like modernization programs to strengthen and justify their rule against the rest of society. To test my argument, I use 49,124 observations collected through dozens of countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by 42 surveys delivered between 2000 and 2014. I find that postcolonial MENA societies break with the pattern predicted by modernization theorists. The better off do not associate with more secularism than the worst off—in former French colonies, that relationship is almost entirely reversed while it is almost null in former British colonies. Adversely, in societies where colonialism never took hold, secularization fits the pattern suggested by modernization theories—there, the better off are more secular than the worst off. My findings suggest that colonial experiences ought to be better accounted for in understanding cultural patterns today.