Publications by Author: Christia, Fotini


Fostering cooperation is one of the main tasks of state building in the aftermath of civil wars, yet little is known about the effects of institutions of integration in increasing interethnic cooperation and facilitating peace. We conducted N-person public goods experiments with costly sanctions in the ethnically-divided city of Mostar in Bosnia- Herzegovina to examine whether and how the introduction of institutions of integration affects cooperation both within and across ethnic groups—in our case Catholic Bosnian Croats and Muslim Bosniacs. Our results indicate that even a limited policy intervention such as the creation of an integrated high school can offset the negative effects of ethnic heterogeneity, driving up peoples' willingness to contribute to public goods. We find that the introduction of institutions of integration is distinct from, and may be necessary for, the effectiveness of sanctions in driving up contributions. The results of this experiment suggest that the presence of integrative institutions can bring about cooperation even when increased heterogeneity diminishes it, thus introducing new ways of thinking about the role of institutions in post-conflict divided societies.

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TEHRAN—It was during a recent visit to a middle-class beauty salon here, amid the women getting their upper lips threaded and their legs waxed, that I saw what the One Million Signature Campaign is up against. A female volunteer approached another customer and encouraged her to sign a petition, which organizers hope to submit to Iran's parliament along with a request for legal reforms on gender equality. The woman said she supported the demands for equality but shied away from what she considered overt political activity against the regime.

The campaign against gender discrimination is encountering resistance on multiple fronts.

Activists gave themselves two years to collect a million signatures, but tomorrow, the campaign's one-year anniversary, they will not have more than 100,000 to report. But unlike other human rights movements battling repressive regimes, which have traditionally looked to the West for a lifeline, Iran's activists are adamant that for all the gratitude they may feel for their Western supporters, they would prefer that we keep our distance. Their efforts offer a fascinating window on how one aspect of the Iranian democracy movement is struggling to survive in a period of growing government repression and paranoia.

The campaign for the million signatures was born after the arrest of 70 women who staged a demonstration against gender discrimination last year in Tehran's Haft-e-Tir Square. Nine of those women were convicted on charges of "endangering national security" and face lengthy prison sentences, beatings with whips and, in some cases, both. (They are free pending appeal.) The crackdown prompted Iranian women's rights activists to embark on a new strategy based on quiet campaigning, face-to-face organizing—and disavowing any Western help.

With extraordinary tenacity, the activists seek out all possible venues in which to gather support without incurring the wrath of the Ahmadinejad regime. They collect signatures not just in beauty salons but in living rooms and parks, on street corners and at bus stops. In Tehran, they have assembled and trained at least 400 volunteers through private parties at organizers' homes, over popcorn and watermelon.

Yet for all the campaign's efforts to elude government attention—and to disown any connection with the West—the regime has been aware of and has reacted to the activists. In March, 34 members were arrested in front of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, where they had gathered in solidarity for their nine convicted colleagues. Over the past year, 13 others involved in the campaign have been arrested. The campaign's Web site—a key tool in a country that lacks an independent media—has routinely been blocked. Members repeatedly have been denied permission to assemble in public places.

The regime aims to paralyze the movement by instilling fear. Even so, many women are undeterred.

"The regime wants to scare us. But we won't let them win. When they push, we resist," Parvin Ardalan, a journalist who was one of the nine convicted in March, told me this month. She is appealing her three-year sentence.

Despite all the institutional repression, perhaps the trickiest issue for organizers is their relationship with the West. In recent months, a number of prominent Iranian Americans with Western passports—such as Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh—have been charged with conspiring against the Iranian government. Political leaders increasingly voiced charges of a "velvet revolution conspiracy," allegedly aimed at toppling the government and backed by "lackeys of the West."

The omens aren't good. Already, the country's intelligence minister has described the movement as comprised of "elements of soft subversion"—an unsubtle attempt to link them to foreigners. In public statements and in conversations with prospective signers, campaign activists emphasize their Iranian roots and their respect for Islam—if only to avoid giving the regime an excuse to discredit them. "What hurts the most is hearing people who claim to be for democracy and reform accuse us of being tools of the West," said Parastoo Alahyaari, a computer engineer and campaign member. "We want to prove that we can do this on our own."

Financial independence is also important. The movement raises funds through documented membership dues and donations and explicitly states on its Web site that it does not accept financial or other support from organizations or governments. Volunteers are asked to strictly adhere to this rule.

"Our regime has phobia," Nobel Peace Prize winner and campaign advocate Shirin Ebadi told me at her Tehran office. "When people talk about human rights they get immediately accused of being with America. But we are Iranian and want to work for our rights…And we know we are doing something right because we are being persecuted." About aid from the West, Ebadi was just as firm. "No money. Never."

Christia, Fotini, and Sreemati Mitter. 2006. “Hamas at the Helm”. Publisher's Version Abstract

Nablus, West Bank

THE crescent has risen. The militant Islamic group Hamas won an astonishing 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian legislative elections this week. The United States and the European Union must finally recognize Hamas's ascendance as a fait accompli.

Until now, these key third parties have equivocated: they pressed Israel to allow Hamas to participate in the elections but threatened to cut aid and ties to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. The practical reality, however, is that Hamas is a pivotal player in Palestinian politics, and no peace process can succeed without at least the tacit acceptance of its leaders. Moreover, Hamas's participation in Palestinian politics is not necessarily a bad thing, and resisting it will very likely do more harm than good.

As a political party, Hamas revealed itself to be disciplined, pragmatic and surprisingly flexible. It fielded well-regarded candidates, including doctors and academics. In some cases, Hamas aligned itself with independents once affiliated with the secular Fatah party. And although the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the liberation of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” the party's campaign manifesto made no mention of these goals.

Instead, when asked about making peace with Israel, Hamas representatives offered nuanced, if evasive, answers. As Ziad Daiah, a Hamas representative in Ramallah, told us: “We are not interested in the Oslo-type peace process that went on for 10 years and wasted time. But if Israel will start new negotiations, with direct benefits for Palestinians in a useful time frame, we will accept that.”

Judging from the thousands of green posters plastered around the West Bank and Gaza, external matters like the peace process were not central to Hamas's electoral agenda. Rather, its campaign focused on popular concerns like fighting corruption, establishing good governance and restoring the rule of law. Hamas's victory speeches have emphasized the need to revamp public services.

To be sure, we should be careful not to read too much into Hamas's electioneering. The Hamas charter retains poisonous language toward Israel, and the group has yet to renounce its views on the place of violence in the Palestinian resistance. And Hamas's Islamist agenda continues to alarm many secular Palestinians, even those who welcome its entry into politics.

Still, Hamas statements indicate that these attitudes are not set in stone. As Mohammed Ghazel, a Hamas leader in Nablus, told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, “The charter is not the Koran.” And Hamas has done more than any other armed faction to honor the truce that President Mahmoud Abbas brokered in February. Although Israel continues to arrest its members, Hamas has done little to retaliate. Such restraint might have been an electoral strategy, but it still proves that if the incentives are right, Hamas can hold its fire.

In any case, the United States and Europe cannot trumpet democratic ideals abroad and then ignore the popular will of Palestinian voters, 78 percent of whom turned out for this election. Refusing to engage with Hamas, however skeptical one may be of its intentions, will only further legitimize the party; it could even give rise to violence. Moreover, cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority, which is already in a fiscal crisis and enormously dependent on foreign aid, could bankrupt it, further destabilizing the region.

Hamas has indisputably become the force to be reckoned with in Palestinian politics. Even Israel seems to have awakened to this reality. A radio reporter recently asked Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister, about negotiating with Hamas. “We are not fighting against a name,” he said. “We are fighting against a situation. If the situation changes, then what difference does a name make?”

If the Israelis are contemplating engagement, it's time the Americans and Europeans did, too.

Fotini Christia is a fellow at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard. Sreemati Mitter works for the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy in Ramallah, West Bank.

TEHRAN—Today marks the seventh anniversary of the student protests that took post-revolutionary Iran by storm. On July 9, 1999, after the forcible closure of several liberal media outlets and a coordinated attack on a dormitory at the University of Tehran, Iranian students poured into the streets by the thousands, calling for political reform. Just as at Tiananmen Square a decade before, the Iranian students gave the world a glimpse of what might be—only to be quickly silenced by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Revolutionary Guard.

Naturally, Iran's regime will not celebrate today's anniversary, but neither will Iran's opposition. The Iranian student movement is a shambles—divided, confused and lacking any cause for celebration. In extensive conversations with students and student veterans of the 1999 protests, who asked to remain anonymous because of fears about their safety, I found that one message emerged loud and clear: Iran does not need another revolution, but it is in desperate need of reform.

The atmosphere at the University of Tehran is eerily quiet these days. Nothing remains from the 1999 protests, which were in fact the most notable outbreak of unrest since the Islamic Revolution 20 years earlier.

The protests were directed at the rule of the ayatollahs, and they revealed the pronounced internal divisions between the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami—then in the middle of his first term—and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Khatami, who was trying to loosen Khamenei's tight control of the judiciary, security services and media, was facing strong resistance from the clerics when the students came to his aid. But unlike the Islamic Revolution, in which the legitimacy of the country's whole system was called into question, the 1999 protests sought reform within the existing regime, and for an Islamic democracy, that would be in accordance with Iran's constitution.

That reform didn't happen, and now, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's leadership, the process has been completely sidelined. The Iranian political scene is dominated by the nuclear issue. Confrontation with the West has made the public more tolerant of authoritarian methods, damaging reformers and making concern for individual rights and civil liberties seem utterly irrelevant. The student movement very much wants a reemergence of the reform process, but it has no good ideas on how to make it happen.

Indeed, the student movement has found no place in Iran's new political reality, and its stance has moved from the politics of realistic change to the politics of survival through inaction. The old guard—the 1999 student leaders—is either in jail or abroad, and those of its members still in Iran desperately want out. Their successors—the new leaders of the liberal student union Daftare Tahkim Vahdat—have no organized structure and are weak and fragmented. Their manifestos espouse a Marxist ideal—the orthodox left as they call it—and surreal plans for communist change. These are mostly poor students from Iran's provinces who find themselves repelled by the big city's bourgeois way of life. They see the move to the left as an outlet for change, but they have no real ideological base or sense of direction. “The government could crush them any day, but they don't because it is convenient to have some sort of weak opposition,” said a student participant in the 1999 protests and a former member of the group. “It makes the regime look more democratic.”

Said another disillusioned veteran of the 1999 student uprising: “Everyone talks about radical change, but nobody wants to do anything about it, and they don't want it to come from America.…We need to bring together the student movement, the women's movement, the workers' movement and the ethnic minority movements and create a united front to face the regime's radical ideas.”

When I asked this person about his contribution to the student movement, he told me he is working on a book. “I am using the U.S. student protests from the late 1960s to show the students that revolution and radicalism is a bust,” he said, adding that “lessons may come from America after all, but they will be for reform, not revolution.”

The writer is a fellow in National Security at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard. She is currently at the International Center for Persian Studies, University of Tehran.


Before its rise to fame as a battleground in the war on terror, Afghanistan was known as a bubbling geyser of the Cold War. During the 1980s Afghan communists, installed and backed by the Soviet Army, struggled for years to overcome resistance from US-backed mujahideen. Now—over a decade after the Soviet withdrawal and bloody ethnic strife that followed—the communists are making a comeback. Running for office in today's Afghan parliamentary elections, they have assumed the mantle of modernism against fundamentalism. And in the highly unstable and ethnically fragmented political landscape, the United States seems to have found a friend in their former foe. Arguably, there is some logic to this apparent madness; but our new-found love for the communists could prove perilous unless handled with care.

Indeed, the former communists—along with some newly returned Afghan diaspora—are the only locals with experience in running a country: They are the only literate bureaucrats around. And in a country plagued by illiteracy and ravished by decades of civil war, the scarcity of trained local officials has made them a desirable commodity. Similarly, former comrades are the only Afghans who are tried and tested in party organization. The Afghan communist party, regardless of its factionalism and shortcomings, was a true party of sorts: It had cadres, a semi-formalized membership structure, as well as women's wings and youth organizations. Peter Dimitroff, the country director of the National Democratic Institute, a leading, mostly US-funded NGO, appreciates the irony in his organization's support for former communist groups. "We support all registered parties, but we support some in a deeper fashion. We like groups that get together on the basis of ideas not ethnicity or geographical background. That is why we are supporting groups like the communists with US money, which is kind of funny... They are good guys and well organized. They are the closest to a professional political party you can get."

In the traditionalist and highly conservative Afghan political context, the former communists are openly "women-friendly," fielding a sizeable number of female candidates. Given the party's gender equity policy, it is hardly surprising that some of the leading women on the political scene have a communist affiliation. And the female quota—which stipulates that 25 percent of the parliamentary seats will have to be filled by women even though they make up only 10 percent of the candidates' pool—will undoubtedly boost not only female but also communist representation in parliament.

Laudable though the former communists' agenda may be, the risks associated with backing a former foe—particularly one with such a negative precedent in Afghanistan—can easily outweigh the benefits. First, our support for the former communists risks alienating the local population. UN Political Affairs Officer Eckhart Schiewe says that US rhetoric on the war on terror closely echoes Soviet justifications for the invasion of Afghanistan. "Once again a major world power has chosen to depict the conflict in Afghanistan as the forces of good against the forces of evil, much like the Soviet Union did," according to Schiewe. "The communists are back in business."

Afghans appear highly apprehensive, if not outright negative, about a potential communist return. According to former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, "some Western governments working in our country have given place to those who entered on the tanks of the [Soviet] invaders of our country... indirectly telling us that it was bad to stand against the Soviets, the Taliban, and terrorism."

Rather than using remnants of an "evil" empire (the former communists) to take down the new evil-doers (the fundamentalists), and risk alienating the local population, the United States should concentrate on good practices. A young Afghan, who blamed Russia "for everything that has gone wrong in Afghanistan in the last 30 years," attributed the resilience of the Afghan communists to the Soviets' human capital strategy. "The Soviets offered a significant number of scholarships to Afghans and trained scores of people in the Soviet Union. These people then came back to Afghanistan as the staunchest supporters of Soviet ideology," he said. "The Americans, if they want to succeed in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, need to establish educational exchange programs. They should stop worrying about weapons of mass destruction and instead concentrate on building human capital. Trained people make the best ideological weapons. And this is what Americans need: ideological weapons of mass construction."

Judging by the Afghan communists' return and resilience, the United States can possibly outsmart its current enemy by learning from its former one. But to do it right, it would have to train its own people rather than rely on what the Soviets left behind.

Christia, Fotini. 2005. “Uzbekistan's Tiananmen”. Publisher's Version Abstract

THE BLOODY protests in Uzbekistan's Andijan square have exposed the Bush administration's Janus-faced policy on regime change. Recent talk of spreading democracy and bringing freedom to the oppressed sits very uneasily with the ''yes, he is a bastard but he is our bastard" approach, reminiscent of the Cold War, which has guided US relations with Uzbekistan. In this case—unlike Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan—America's ally of choice is not a pro-democracy revolutionary but a proven despot, the Uzbek leader Islam Karimov. Plagued with political repression and economic disenfranchisement as well as a rise in Islamism, Uzbekistan is a case in point as to why the United States cannot and should not have it both ways.

The most populous republic in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is rich in natural resources and the world's second biggest cotton producer after China. Despite its economic potential, Uzbekistan's growth and living standards are among the lowest in the former Soviet Union. Dominated by Karimov since the republic's independence in 1991, the Uzbek political scene has become increasingly repressive. After strategically aligning himself with the United States in the war against terror and offering an Uzbek military base for US military operations in neighboring Afghanistan, Karimov has used the threat of radical Muslim unrest to justify the persecution and oppression of his political opponents.

No opposition parties are recognized and Karimov's regime has decimated Uzbek civil society: there are practically no independent local NGOs and no freedom of expression or association. Independent media operations have been driven underground and foreign correspondents forced to leave the country. Despite a constitutional ban on censorship, local journalists opposing the regime have been blacklisted. With the media neutered, no one really knows how many people have been killed or wounded in the recent protests. Estimates currently range from a few dozen to several hundred and the UN has called for an independent investigation on last week's violence.

Karimov's persecution of the secular opposition has increasingly pushed ordinary Uzbeks into the arms of radical Islamist groups. The Islamist group with the broadest appeal is Hizb-ut-Tahrir (the Islamic Party of Liberation), which claims to stand for the peaceful overthrow of the Uzbek government and the creation of a caliphate throughout Central Asia. Karimov has branded Hizb-ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization (though it is not on the US State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations) and blames it for bombings and suicide attacks that took place in Tashkent last spring and summer. The recent protests in Andijan were in opposition to the government's indiscriminate arrests on the grounds of membership to Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Uzbekistan therefore combines political oppression and the rise of Islamism with economic opportunity for rebellion. So far the mix has proved highly volatile. If the United States wants to avoid increased violations of human rights and the possibility of a future Islamist takeover, it must take immediate steps to strengthen civil society in Uzbekistan. Karimov has to be pressured to allow the registration of opposition parties such as ERK (Freedom), BIRLIK (Unity) and OZOD DEHQON (Free Peasants) as well as the registration of truly independent NGOs. The reintroduction of an independent media and guarantees that freedom of conscience, expression and association will be respected are also essential.

But for Karimov to commit to change credibly, all reforms have to be tied to monetary incentives. The United States, as well as international financial institutions, should make aid and loans conditional on tangible reform. This pressure would be most effective if it involved coordinated action from the United States and Russia as well as international political and financial organizations. Action has to be immediate to avert further refugee flows to Kyrgyzstan and other neighboring states that could prove highly destabilizing for the broader region.

According to one of the leading opposition figures, the Free Peasants Party General Secretary Nigora Khidoyatova, a revolution is on the way in Uzbekistan. ''Our revolution will be green," she said, alluding to her peasants' party color and pointing to an orange poster of Ukraine's Victor Yushchenko hanging on her cabinet. Unless the United States effectively pressures President Karimov to strengthen civil society and its fledgling democratic forces, a revolution will sweep Uzbekistan. And once it erupts it may very well be green: Islamist green.