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From Islamists to Muslim Democrats: The Case of Tunisia’s Ennahda



What drives some Islamists to become “Muslim Democrats,” downplaying religion and accepting secular democracy? This article hypothesizes that one channel of ideological change is migration to secular democracies. Drawing on an ideal point analysis of parliamentary votes from the Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahda, I find that MPs who had lived in secular democracies held more liberal voting records than their counterparts who had lived only in Tunisia. In particular, they were more likely to defend freedom of conscience and to vote against enshrining Islamic law in the constitution. 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: socialization, intergroup contact, and political learning.

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Corresponding author

*Sharan Grewal, Assistant Professor, College of William & Mary,


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Interviews were conducted under Princeton IRB #6749. I thank Intissar Samarat, Hamza Mighri, and Safa Belghith for their exceptional research assistance. For helpful comments on earlier drafts, I thank editor Ken Benoit, three anonymous reviewers, Matthew Cebul, Nathan Gonzalez, Nathan Grubman, Kim Guiler, Amaney Jamal, Robert Kubinec, Mirjam Künkler, Ellen Lust, Tarek Masoud, Victoria McGroary, Quinn Mecham, Rory Truex, and audiences at Princeton, the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, and the Project on Middle East Political Science. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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From Islamists to Muslim Democrats: The Case of Tunisia’s Ennahda



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