Political elites and regime change in the Middle East and North Africa: accommodation or exclusion?
Political scientist Kevin Köhler (Leiden University) has been awarded a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This prestigious grant enables him to set up a research group in the coming five years. Köhler and his team will examine how elite conflict affects processes of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa.
Compromise or conflict?
Political scientists have long argued that political elites play an important role in shaping forms of political rule. More specifically, elite compromise has long been associated with democracy, while conflict has been linked to the emergence of non-democratic regimes. What we do not understand is what makes elite compromise possible in the first place. ‘In this project we develop micro-foundations for theories linking political elites to regime change,’ Köhler explains. ‘We will use individual-level data on political elites to understand the drivers of elite compromise and conflict.’
Focus on members of parliament in Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey
Köhler and his team will focus in particular on three countries: Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey. To systematically observe dynamics of elite competition, they will collect individual-level data on members of parliament in these countries, going back more than a century to the earliest parliamentary assemblies in each case. ‘Members of parliament are not necessarily central decision makers, especially since we are looking at non-democratic settings for most of this period,’ Köhler says. ‘However, MPs are part of regime coalitions, the group of elite actors whose support is necessary for regime survival. This is exactly why they are interesting for the project.’
In addition to systematic data on political elites, the project will rely on in-depth fieldwork as well as survey research in all three countries. The ultimate aim is to understand how different elite constellations have shaped political regimes in the past and continue to do so in the present. ‘Solving this puzzle,’ Koehler maintains, ‘will not only make a theoretical contribution, but will also allow us to develop new ways of dealing with political instability in a crucial area of the European neighborhood.’
Generous support from colleagues
Köhler has worked on developing this grant application for more than a year, receiving generous support from colleagues at the Institute of Political Science, as well as from the Faculty of Social Sciences. ‘I don’t think I would have had the energy and persistence to continuously refine my application without the support of my colleagues,’ says Köhler. ‘The fact that many of my colleagues were so generous with their time and ideas has made the proposal much stronger. I am immensely grateful for this support!’
Mostly for the employment of researchers
The European Research Council (ERC), set up by the European Union in 2007, is the main European scientific funding organisation. The ERC’s yearly Consolidator Grant competition targets ‘outstanding researchers’ with 7 to 12 years of experience since the completion of their PhD and a ‘scientific track record showing great promise and an excellent research proposal’. The grant is meant to enhance the independence of individual researchers. The funding (up to €2 million per grant), is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees’ teams.
In 2021, the ERC received 2652 proposals for Consolidator Grants. Kevin Köhler and 5 other researchers from Leiden University where among the 313 successful applicants.