CMES: Property and Power: the Colonial Origins of Redistributive Conflict in the Middle East


Monday, April 2, 2018, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


CMES, Rm 102, 38 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA

The CES Colonial Encounters Working Group and CMES present

iMAGEAllison Hartnett
Pre-doctoral research fellow, Middle East Inititiative, Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; DPhil candidate, University of Oxford

This talk will examine the long-run influence of colonial institutions in conditioning state redistributive capacity in the Middle East and North Africa. In the wake of independence from colonialism, redistributive conflict impelled new regimes across the region to dismantle the incumbent landed elite through land reform. While popular support for such policies was high, empirical evidence suggests that undertaking land reform often expedited regime failure. The talk will present a new theoretical framework that outlines the risks of land reform for new regimes based on institutional features inherited from colonialism. Colonial property reforms resulted in two types of landed elites: property reforms aimed at recouping more tax revenue often encouraged the development of a locally-based landed elite, whereas colonizers' introduction of preferential property rights aimed at buying political compliance created an absentee landed class. Hartnett suggests that after independence, expropriating locally embedded landowners was intractable because of their social capital, whereas regimes were often tempted to expropriate absentee landowners due to their unpopularity. Ultimately, however, expropriating absentee landowners presented a governance challenge; areas previously dominated by absentee landlords had less penetration by state institutions. Therefore, expropriating absentee landlords created a "hole" in the fabric of governance, and resulted in less governable areas lacking in political, social, or economic order and state integration. Using cross-country time series models and qualitative case studies of Iraq and Jordan, this talk will provide evidence that regimes that expropriated absentee landed elites were more likely to fail due to a paucity of local order brought on by land redistribution.

Allison Hartnett is a pre-doctoral research fellow at the Middle East Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and is in the final year of her DPhil (PhD) in politics at the University of Oxford. Her research interests are in the political economy of development and authoritarian durability, with a focus on the state-building period in the Middle East and North Africa. Her research agenda maps the colonial origins of redistributive conflict in the Middle East, and considers how the inheritance of colonial institutions conditioned the durability and efficacy of independent regimes in Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Her dissertation forms the basis of a book project which examines the relationship between land redistribution and political instability in the MENA region. Her research is based on field interviews and original datasets from archival and other primary sources.

Co-sponsors: Center for European Studies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Contact: Liz Flanagan