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The Quran and the Sword – the Strategic Game between Autocratic Power, the Military And the Clerics


This paper elucidates the willingness of an autocrat to push through institutional reforms in a context where traditional authorities represented by religious clerics are averse to them and where the military, who have their own preferences about reforms, control the means of repression and can potentially make a coup. In this complex political economy game with three players, we show that although the autocrat always wants to co-opt the military, this is not necessarily true of the clerics. We examine successively the case where the size of the army is exogenously given and the case where it is chosen by the autocrat. Our empirical foray reveals that the dominant regime in contemporary Muslim countries is the regime of double cooption. Exclusive co-option of the military has characterized only a few regimes in which the autocrat’s intrinsic legitimacy and the loyalty of his army were both very strong while the organizational effectiveness of religious movements was rather low. Radical institutional reforms could then be implemented. Another polar case obtains when ultra-conservative clerics are powerful enough to block any institutional reform that they dislike, a situation more likely when abundant oil resources create the conditions of a rent economy. More frequently, the autocrat resorts to a double-edged tactic: pleasing the official clerics by slowing the pace of reforms, and ensuring the loyalty of the military to be able to put down an opposition instigated by rebel clerics.

This EDI Working Paper is based on research for the case study on the “Strategic Game between Autocratic Power, the Military and the Clerics”.


Emmanuelle Auriol, Toulouse School of Economics
Jean-Philippe Platteau, University of Namur
Thierry Verdier, Paris School of Economics


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