On 28 November 2012, the Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law (Constitutional Transitions) welcomed Professor Ellen Lust to present her ongoing research on the interactions between social ties and political representation in the Arab world. The event was the fifth session of the Constitutional Transitions Colloquium. A video recording of the event is available here.
Lust, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Fellow at NYU’s Straus Institute for Law and Justice, argued that while these two realms are usually studied in isolation, they nevertheless overlap in important ways, especially when considered in the specific context of those countries undergoing dramatic political transitions as a result of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Lust argued that social networks, such as those based around family, tribe, religion, etc., impact how individuals engage with ‘political’ processes, such as voting, election laws, and political party formation. As a result of a long history of authoritarianism, repression of political parties, and weak parliaments, individuals in these states have come to perceive their elected representatives not primarily as legislators, but as ‘service deputies’ (na`ib khidma) whose role was to obtain material benefits for them as constituents. This conceptualization of political representation retains a considerable role for informal social networks, and affects the political landscape upon which future elections will take place.
Understanding the role of representatives in this light has serious implications for reform of state constitutions and electoral laws, and may deeply affect the forms of democracy that eventually arise in these newly post-authoritarian countries.
The next session of the Constitutional Transitions Colloquium will take place in January 2013, featuring Gianluca Parolin of the American University of Cairo, currently a Visiting Fellow at Constitutional Transitions.