Why do citizens facing similar conditions – marginalization, exclusion, deteriorating public services, corrupt government, and inequality – rely on different behaviors to express political sentiments?
In the years since Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was removed from power in Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011, Tunisian citizens and activists have signed petitions, marched, and held demonstrations to demand greater transparency in constitution drafting, to protest unemployment, to oppose efforts to weaken anti-corruption laws, and more recently, to oppose austerity measures. Yet during the same period, between 6,000 and 7,000 Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the most of any country in the world.
In “Signaling Dissent: Political Behavior in the Arab World”, Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgård and Tarik Yousef provide insights about how individuals choose from the spectrum of political action and why they escalate from non-violence to violence. In their research, they model political actions as signals along a continuum with varying costs – costs that determine the credibility of those signals to incumbents.
One of the findings is that political violence constitutes a credible alternative for those for whom peaceful protest carries little signaling value. Meaning that the likelihood of participation in peaceful protests and strikes is highest among the upper-middle class, while support for violence is concentrated among the lower-middle class.