The politics of Islamist social service provision in Egypt




Brooke, Steven Thomas

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Since its re-emergence under Anwar El-Sadat in the 1970s, the Muslim Brotherhood has provided millions of Egyptians with a valuable array of social services, from discounted food, to education, to medical care. Yet this distribution is uneven- some areas host extensive social service networks, while others are passed over or receive only minimal attention. This project examines the spatial variation in the Muslim Brotherhood’s social service network through three interlocking questions: Under what conditions does the Brotherhood extend social service provision? What are the effects of this social service provision on patterns of sociopolitical mobilization? And what is the causal pathway through which social service provision influences a recipient’s beliefs and behaviors? Using spatial, qualitative, and experimental data I show how Egypt’s authoritarian political economy incentivized the Brotherhood to channel social service resources away from Egypt’s myriad poor neighborhoods and villages and into middle class, electorally competitive areas. In those districts, the group’s provision of social services drove electoral support neither through the contingent, episodic exchange of clientelism nor by generating a cadre of Islamists seeking to establish God’s rule on earth. Instead, the Brotherhood’s professional and compassionate social service provision generated a powerful reputational effect that benefitted the group on election day.



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