Revise and Resubmit

Grewal, Sharan, and Yasser Kureshi. "How to Sell a Coup: Elections as Coup Legitimation." Journal of Conflict Resolution.

  • Abstract: Unlike other political leaders, leaders coming to power through military coups face a dual legitimation challenge: they must justify not only why they should rule, but also how they came to power. Little attention has been paid to how coup leaders solve this legitimacy decit, and even less to the audiences of this legitimation. We ask: why do some coup leaders legitimate their coups by holding elections while others do not? Counterintuitively, we argue that coup leaders who oust democratically-elected leaders are less likely to hold elections, except when tied to U.S. military aid. We test these hypotheses through a dataset of military coup regimes from 1946-2014, and trace out mechanisms through case studies of the Nigerian coup of 1983 and the Egyptian coup of 2013. This argument provides a new explanation for the emergence of authoritarian elections and a new perspective on the international dimensions of dictatorship.


Under Review

Grewal, Sharan. "From Islamists to Muslim Democrats: How Living in Secular Democracies Shaped Tunisia's Ennahda."  PDF icongrewal_seculardiffusion.pdf

  • Abstract: What drives some Islamist political parties to become “Muslim Democrats,” downplaying religion and accepting secular democracy? This paper hypothesizes that one channel of ideological change is time spent in secular democracies. Drawing on an original dataset of parliamentary votes from the Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahda, I find that MPs who had lived in secular democracies were more likely to vote against enshrining Islam in the constitution than their counterparts who had lived only in Tunisia. They were also more likely to vote for freedom of conscience and to prohibit the labelling of another Muslim as an apostate. Interviews with several of these MPs demonstrate that they recognize a causal effect of their experiences abroad on their ideologies, and provide support for three distinct mechanisms by which this effect may have occurred. Finally, Arab Barometer survey data suggest that this theory may extend beyond the case of Tunisia.


Grewal, Sharan, and Steve Monroe. "Down and Out: Founding Elections and Disillusionment with Democracy in Egypt and Tunisia."

  • Abstract: Which electoral losers become the most disillusioned with democracy following the first free and fair elections? Exploiting surveys before and after the founding elections in post-Arab Spring Egypt and Tunisia, we find that the most disillusioned losers were those residing in areas where the losing parties were strongest. We argue that expectations matter. Losers whose parties are strong locally tend to overestimate their popularity nationally and thus become more disillusioned after the first elections. Beyond these attitudinal results, we also find that in subsequent elections, these areas witnessed a greater increase in support for candidates from former autocratic regimes. These findings highlight the informational role founding elections can play in coloring electoral losers' attitudes and behaviors during a democratic transition.


Grewal, Sharan, Amaney Jamal, Tarek Masoud, and Elizabeth Nugent. "Poverty and Divine Rewards: The Electoral Advantage of Islamic Political Parties."

  • Abstract: Political life in Muslim-majority countries has long been marked by the electoral dominance of Islamic political parties. While recent scholarship explaining this dominance has highlighted material factors such as social service provision, we revive an older literature emphasizing the importance of religion. Islamist parties may win elections because their religious characteristics strike a chord with populations suffering from the socio-economic dislocations of urbanization and modernization. In this telling, the embrace of religious parties is one piece of a broader turn toward the comforting certainties of religion during times of upheaval. Through a series of laboratory experiments in Tunisia, we find that individuals undergoing economic hardship exhibit greater support for Islamic parties, and that this support is mediated by a tendency to rely on God for relief from adverse life events. The evidence suggests that for at least a segment of voters, the religious nature of Islamic parties is intrinsically important.


Grewal, Sharan, Amaney Jamal, Tarek Masoud, and Elizabeth Nugent. "Religion Alleviates Cognitive Strain."

  • Abstract: Previous research has established that poverty impedes cognitive function. In a set of two laboratory experiments conducted in Tunisia, we replicate this result, and show that religious belief can ameliorate the detrimental cognitive effects of poverty. In one experiment, we find that religious individuals who are subject to economic strain exhibit a propensity to rely on God’s beneficence, which in turn inhibits stress and cognitive impairment. In a second experiment, we find that respondents who were subtly primed to rely on God were less affected by economic shocks than those who were not. We additionally provide cross-national survey evidence of the cognitive benefits of religion.



Research in Progress

  • Grewal, Sharan. "Who Supports Coups? A List Experiment of Turkey's 2016 Coup Attempt."
  • Grewal, Sharan. "Socializing Civil-Military Relations: the Differential Effects of American and French Training on Tunisian Military Officers."
  • Grewal, Sharan and Matthew Cebul. "Religion and Compromise: Experimental Investigations."
  • Grewal, Sharan, Amaney Jamal, and Tarek Masoud. "Does Islam Induce Altruism?"
  • Co-PI and Tunisia Country Director for: “Religious Authority and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs.