March 26, 2021
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Political cleavages in Algeria, Iraq, and Turkey

Political Cleavages and Social Inequalities in Algeria, Iraq, and Turkey, 1990-2019

In this paperLydia Assouad, Amory Gethin, Thomas Piketty and Juliet-Nil Uraz draw on political attitudes surveys to document the evolution of political cleavages in light of inequality dynamics in Algeria (2002-2018), Iraq (2005-2018), and Turkey (1991-2018). The authors investigate how social divides and ethno-religious conflicts shape voting behaviors in these three countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Their findings suggest that identity-based voting remains highly interconnected with social disparities and does not offer extensive explanatory power on its own, except in the extreme case of the Iraqi sectarian political system. Socioeconomic factors play a differentiated role depending on the historical and institutional context and have increasingly been at the heart of popular mobilizations outside of the electoral arena.

Key Findings

  • Party systems and multiparty elections played an increasingly important role in the MENA region since the 1990s. Identity-based voting has been on the rise with the adoption of sectarian modes of governance in Iraq and the arrival of openly religious parties in Turkey and Algeria.
  • Religious and ethnic conflicts have however been absent from the recent waves of mass protests that shook the region in the past decade. From the 2011 Arab Springs to the 2013 Gezi Protest and the 2019-2020 popular uprisings, calls for fairer redistribution of revenues reintroduce the importance of inequality dynamics in the MENA, one of the most unequal regions in the world.
  • Socioeconomic considerations may have never disappeared from MENA politics. Algerian and Turkish regimes display cross-class features uniting poorest and richest voters while the advent of an interclass and cross-sectarian opposition, in the votes and in the streets, has undermined the sectarian Iraqi mode of governance.
  • Strong identity cleavages encompass long-lasting inequalities among ethnic minorities in the three countries: the Kurds being poorer in Turkey, richer in Iraq, and the Berbers continuously less supportive of the regime in Algeria.

Figure – The Regional Cleavage in Iraq:  Vote for Shia Islamic lists by region




  • Lydia Assouad (Paris School of Economics, World Inequality Lab):
  • Amory Gethin (Paris School of Economics, World Inequality Lab):
  • Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics, World Inequality Lab):
  • Juliet-Nil Uraz (European University Institute):

Media inquiries

  • Olivia Ronsain:; +33 7 63 91 81 68


The authors are grateful to Ishac Diwan, Dalia Ghanem and Clara Martínez-Toledano for their useful advices.

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