Friday, April 22, 2016

URSP Student Jordan Shimer Studies how Neoliberal Reforms in Egypt and Tunisia may have been Key Factors in the Arab Spring

Together with Dr. Eric Shiraev, I am studying how neoliberal reforms in Egypt and Tunisia may have been key factors leading into the Arab Spring.  I am looking to draw a connection between increasing capital mobility among individuals in these states, and the revolutions that took place by contrasting both economies with Saudi Arabia.  I became interested in this project while studying at Trinity College in Oxford, during a tutorial in comparative politics. I studied both revolution and regime failure, and noticed that studies in revolution were either psychological and agent-driven or neo-Marxist, while studies in regime failure were strictly structural.  There was little overlap in the literature, in spite of an obvious relationship.  I felt I could use my background and interest in political economy to start bridging the gap.

I hope to return to graduate school at Oxford, and view this research as an opportunity to audition my work, and hopefully get published.  Successful research would create the opportunity to present at symposiums or conferences, or be published in journals.  Any of these would strengthen my resume leading into grad school.  After grad school, I hope to work in a think-tank or as a policy advisor.  Both career paths would also be aided by having published works.

I spend 2-3 hours a day poring over databases and reading existing academic literature to put together my argument.  I hold weekly meetings with my mentor, where we cover what I have learned or want to focus on for the next week.  We bounce ideas and arguments off one another, and often have to be careful to keep the scope of the work as narrow as possible, which is easier said than done with the countless causes of the Arab Spring.

This week, I found that along with the mandatory economic reforms taken in Egypt and Tunisia, both states did not build up capital reserves during the economic boom from 2003-7 that was driven by growth in oil prices.  Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia exponentially increased its holdings of foreign capital, which may have strengthened the regimes powers of repression when the aftershocks of the Arab Spring reached the Arabic Peninsula. While this is obviously only a minor factor, it may be key fact in understanding the policies in Saudi Arabia that are key to the regime's durability.