Arabs Want Redistribution, So Why Don't They Vote Left? Theory and Evidence from Egypt

Posted: 24 Mar 2013 Last revised: 11 Apr 2014

See all articles by Tarek Masoud

Tarek Masoud

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: March 22, 2013


Though Egyptian voters clearly evince a desire for Islamic law (however defined), public opinion research shows that they also want robust welfare states and significant redistribution. Though the application of Islamic law is the special province of Islamist parties, it is left-leaning, labor-based parties who are the primary champions of the economic policies that Egyptians seem to desire. Why, then, do Egyptian voters select the former over the latter? This article argues that the answer lies not in the political unsophistication of voters, the subordination of economic interests to spiritual ones, or the bureaucratic and organizational shortcomings of leftist parties, but in the ways in which the social landscape shapes the opportunities of parties in newly democratized systems to reach potential voters. Dense networks of religious solidary organizations, in which Islamist activists are often embedded, and which encompass large numbers of voters, provide Islamist parties with opportunities for linkage that are unavailable to leftists, who are embedded in much more limited networks of labor activism. As a result, despite the fact that Islamist attitudes toward redistribution and the state's role in providing welfare are more ambiguous than those of leftists, Islamist candidates have far greater opportunities to convince voters that they in fact share their economic views. The theory is tested with a combination of aggregate and individual evidence from Egypt after the Arab Spring.

Keywords: Islam, voting, political parties, Egypt, left, right

Suggested Citation

Masoud, Tarek, Arabs Want Redistribution, So Why Don't They Vote Left? Theory and Evidence from Egypt (March 22, 2013). HKS Working Paper No. RWP13-007. Available at SSRN: or

Tarek Masoud (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics