Middle Eastern Attitudes toward Democratization & Authoritarianism

As part of a new series of profiles on faculty research at Lehman, I recently met up with Dr. Devrim Yavuz, a Lecturer of Sociology, to discuss his summer research experience in Turkey. Dr. Yavuz’s research focuses on economic changes linked to shifts in political regimes. His most recent work concentrates on business’s attitudes towards democratization and authoritarianism in the Middle East.

In July and August, he conducted interviews in Istanbul, Turkey with owners of small and large businesses to answer the question: Under capitalism, what would lead a business toward supporting democratization instead of authoritarianism?

In investigating his project, Yavuz focused on businesses associated with two organizations:  1) TUSIAD, which stands for Turkish Industry and Business Association, and 2) TUSKON, the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey.  The former organization is secular, representing larger businesses with fewer members included than TUSKON, while the latter is religiously affiliated, represents many small companies, and provides voluntary membership with an emphasis on gaining sponsorships within the government and political sectors. Both share a striking similarity in that each association tends to serve as a civil society organization. Yavuz explained that this indicates that business lobbies take public opinion into account.

Democratization is the transition into becoming more politically democratic. Authoritarianism is the support for regimes that limit the participation of various social groups. In Turkey, family ownership is important; however, it is through business lobbies that businesspeople press for change and not one’s own family business. Regardless, there are a few large corporations in Turkey that are managed by the wealthiest Turkish families. Since the early 1990’s, entrepreneurship and growth of smaller businesses surfaced due to an open economy and free trade. There is a new phenomenon occurring in the Turkish business sector, in which these smaller businesses are economically dynamic and religiously affiliated. Through his research, Yavuz recognizes that religiously affiliated companies express views more in line with the Turkish government’s ideology, such as being practicing Muslims. As a further investigation, Yavuz also intends to illuminate whether or not improvements to economic policy will follow this linkage and whether or not trade missions significantly contribute to the Turkish economy.

Yavuz also offered advice for faculty pursuing qualitative research. He suggests that when attempting to make contact with elite people of society, it is best to plan ahead and begin the process early. Second, he advocates for scheduling interviews with the “bigger fish” of the organization, since they often have more time on their hands. Lastly, when speaking with a person who has a high level of experience, one should not go into the meeting unknowledgeable of the circumstances/topic. Yavuz offers the journalism technique of “triangulation” which references someone else’s work to construct probing questions that the interviewee will find relevant.

With recent news regarding the Arab Spring, Yavuz’s research ties into these acts of pro-democracy. Advocates of democracy in the Middle East have rebelled against corruption and the government’s neglect by protesting in various manners. Yavuz stated, “…some commentators show Turkey as a model of democracy for Middle Eastern countries.  One aspect of Turkey is that it has business associations that seem to have embraced democracy in recent past.  Perhaps Middle Eastern business associations can be advised to adopt some of their practices.” Utilizing business lobbies as a force to transition into a democratic society in the Middle East has the potential for both positive and negative outcomes, but conceivably also makes this shift easier.


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