“Syrian Refugees and Citizenship.” In The Middle East in Transition: The Centrality of Citizenship, edited by Roel Meijer and Nils Butenschøn. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018. With Musa Shteiwi.
"Brief on Citizenship." Vicious Cycles: Toward a Research Agenda on Return and Repeat Displacement Workshop. December 2019.
My research focuses on policymaking pressures and dynamics behind citizenship, migration, and gender policies, particularly in the Arab world. In doing so, I examine how states treat citizen and noncitizen groups in law and practice. Some of my research is cross-national and some focuses on cases within Jordan. My projects all aim to uncover creative policymaking strategies and address shifting boundaries in practiced and legal citizenship using original qualitative and quantitative data.
I employ a variety of methods in response to my research questions. These methods include interviews, fieldwork with an ethnographic sensibility, archival research, and statistical analysis. My extensive experiences studying, living, and researching in Jordan for over 18 months during the last decade—as well as over six years of formal Arabic language training, including courses on different Jordanian dialects—has enabled me to gather detailed data in Jordan.
These data include over 200 interviews with diverse actors, from current and former ministers, parliamentarians, and bureaucrats to refugees and noncitizens. Further, I engage an ethnographic sensibility when conducting interviews and navigating interview spaces to observe how people interact with these spaces and how my position might influence interviewee responses. I have developed this sensibility through fieldwork experience and training in theories of anthropology and ethnography, including a course on ethnographic research in an Amerindian village in Guyana.
In addition, I utilize archival files to address historic dimensions of my research. I received archival training through the Summer Institute on Conducting Archival Research, and I have collected over 800 files on Jordan’s internal affairs from the U.S. National Archives at College Park and British National Archives at Kew. I also use statistical methods to analyze quantitative data I have compiled, utilizing my coursework on nonlinear, linear, multilevel, and longitudinal regressions. My training at the Institute for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research has helped me combine these methods.
Intentional Ambiguity: Strategic Non-Enforcement of Protracted Refugee Rights
My first book project builds on my dissertation research and aims to resolve the puzzle of why countries would adopt policies that say one thing in law but do the opposite in practice. At times, states may offer more rights in law than practice. For instance, in 2010, despite clear legal protections from nationality revocations, many Palestinian-Jordanians had their Jordanian nationality revoked. Similarly, in 2002, Ghana allowed Liberian refugees to naturalize by law, but prevented this naturalization in practice.
At other times, states may offer more rights in practice than law. For instance, in 2010, noncitizen Palestinian refugees from Gaza had access to temporary Jordanian passports, despite the absence of a law concerning these passports. Further, in 2018, Egypt allowed Sudanese refugees to work, despite prohibiting this work in law. Why would a state implement rights at certain times and not others? Why do states offer migrant groups rights in law and practice versus just in law or just in practice?
Diverging from the existing literature, I argue that states may say one thing and do another, not because of limited capacity, but because it suits regime interests. Specifically, I find that when the two most influential stakeholders for regime survival in a policy area—e.g., the largest donor and strongest security leaders—have similar policy preferences, the country’s leader can implement the law more easily: a situation I describe as coherence. However, when these actors’ policy preferences differ, the leader can placate both sides by allowing the law’s implementation to diverge from its written content: a situation I call intentional ambiguity, where the law pleases one actor and its implementation suits the other. This finding uncovers a deliberate strategy hidden under apparent institutional weakness.
My first book project presents and interrogates intentional ambiguity in the context of the rights host states grant to different protracted refugee groups (PRGs) in law and practice. The United Nations (UN) defines PRGs as groups of refugees from the same territory living in the same host country for at least five years without immediate prospects for a durable solution. This book starts by theorizing intentional ambiguity. Next, it leverages Jordan’s extensive variation in PRG rights over time to discuss coherence and intentional ambiguity in its policies toward three Palestinian PRGs, i.e., those who arrived in: 1948, 1967 from the West Bank, and 1967 from Gaza. To code and analyze these policies, I personally collected extensive primary source data. These include over 800 archival files from the British and U.S. National Archives, Jordanian legislation, and over 200 interviews with ministers, security leaders, refugees, and others during 14 months of fieldwork in Jordan from 2016–19.
Jordan is a critical case to study because it hosts the world’s most refugees per capita and the second most in total population, when counting Palestinians. In addition, Jordan’s diverse policies toward Palestinian PRGs make it possible to hold group- and period-specific alternatives constant, while closely tracking PRG rights in law and practice. Further, recent migration trends suggest that more refugee host states are starting to look like Jordan. As of 2016, UN data reveal that 74% of all refugees are protracted, living in 51 host states—compared to just 59% of all refugees in 31 host states in 1993.
Recognizing this trend, the book then turns to assessing intentional ambiguity in other PRG host states, including Lebanon, Tanzania, and Bangladesh. This section discusses the different dominant stakeholders that emerge in PRG host states as well as the factors that curtail intentional ambiguity and promote PRG rights in law and practice. The book concludes by discussing when international donors can expect to influence refugee rights in law or practice as well as the implications of having influence only on law or practice. I plan to publish this book with a top university press by Fall 2023.
Related Research Papers
Regime Survival and Policymaking Strategies
I have several papers related to my first book project that focus on the policymaking strategies regimes use to remain in power. One of these papers is an article summarizing my first book’s findings. Others, in more formative stages, include articles that apply my intentional ambiguity framework to policy areas beyond migration, like negotiated peace efforts and conditional economic reforms. I plan to submit these single-authored pieces to top political science journals. In addition, I am working on a special journal issue on strategic non-enforcement in collaboration with scholars analyzing this phenomenon across policy areas and regions.
Further, I have a book chapter as part of an edited volume on The Politics of Fifth Columns. Fifth columns are residents in a state who allegedly undermine the state from within due to their ties to an external enemy. My chapter examines why political elites frame groups as fifth columns. My findings diverge from existing studies—which identify geopolitical factors as the source of fifth column frames—and reveal that fifth column frames can reflect domestic political interests, such as scapegoating a group to avoid reform. Likewise, political elites can ignore opportunities to frame a group as a fifth column to push forward other domestic interests, like economic development.
Citizenship and Migration in Law and Practice
I also have related papers that analyze citizenship in both law and practice across citizen and noncitizen groups. One of these papers is a book chapter co-authored with Nathan Brown for the Handbook of Citizenship in the Middle East and North Africa. This chapter argues that Arab regimes have asserted their sovereignty and control in constitutions and laws by including clear, extensive provisions concerning the rulers’ powers and vague, terse provisions on the people’s rights. Further, when existing legal provisions do not suit regime interests, regimes assert their power by ignoring and obfuscating people’s rights. They can do this by issuing regulations and decrees that contradict these laws and constitutional provisions.
In two other book chapters, I examine how long-term noncitizen residents, like PRGs, challenge the boundaries of state citizenship. One of these focuses on Jordan’s and Lebanon’s legal obligations to Syrian refugees since 2011 and highlights similarities in the types of rights these states grant to noncitizens and citizens, such as more social and economic versus civil and political rights. The other chapter unpacks citizenship as a concept using the literature on noncitizenship and Jordanian Arabic distinctions between “citizenship” and “nationality.” This analysis breaks citizenship down into four main parts: legal citizen status (i.e., nationality), rights in law, rights in practice, and belonging. This approach reveals the blurry lines in practice between citizens and noncitizens as well as intersections in legal inequality between citizen groups, like women, and noncitizen groups, like refugees.
Unequal Citizens: State Resistance to Women’s Nationality Law Reform
My second book project builds on my previous work and examines the persistence of discrimination toward women (DTW) in state nationality laws. This discrimination prevents women from passing their nationality—and the rights it entails—onto their spouses and children on the same terms as men. This project aims to resolve the puzzle of why Jordan, along with 45 other countries, has maintained this DTW, despite international pressures to remove it following the adoption in 1979 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
I find that states with large, protracted noncitizen populations are more likely to have resisted removing DTW from their nationality laws because these states portray these groups as security threats seeking a pathway to citizenship. This finding contrasts with and extends existing arguments that attribute legal DTW solely to cultural-religious structures, women’s activism, and women’s political participation. In addition, this finding reveals an intersection of migrant’s and women’s rights and highlights migration trends as a critical factor to consider when studying women’s rights reforms.
This project engages a multi-method approach to present these findings. First, it uses an original global dataset I have been compiling on the presence of DTW in state nationality laws from 2003–18. Second, it includes most-similar case studies of Arab states that have responded to this DTW in different ways, despite sharing traits linked to the existing arguments above. These cases include: Algeria and Tunisia, which have removed most of this DTW, Morocco and Egypt, which have removed some of this DTW, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have introduced limited exceptions to this DTW, and Jordan and Lebanon, which have not reformed this DTW at all.
Gender, Ethnicity, and Security
I have a working paper on this topic that I am about to send for publication. This paper focuses on a detailed case study of Jordan’s failed nationality law reform in 2014 and statistical analyses of this DTW globally in 2015. I also have a working paper on how regimes frame other nationality law reforms—like access to citizenship by investment—as threatening and linked to long-term noncitizen groups. These papers show how state leaders can leverage pre-existing popular concerns with gender, ethnicity, and demography to make alleged threats more credible and block pathways to citizenship.
From 2014–15, I worked with Dr. Nathan Jensen on a project examining the effects of large tax incentives for firms offered by U.S. counties on local inequality rates and government spending. Using data from the International City/County Management Association and the National League of Cities as well as U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we used logit regression analysis to examine whether incentives lead to a higher likelihood of a county having a local sales tax as well as whether incentives correspond with higher levels of income inequality (using Gini indices). Our preliminary findings suggested that incentives are positively correlated with local sales taxes as well as local inequality rates. My research prior to starting my doctoral program dealt with the role of Al-Jazeera Arabic news in Jordanian society, the effectiveness of development projects in Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps, and the reasons for U.S. intervention or non-intervention in the Arab Spring.
Beyond these research projects, I have gained insights on Middle East politics, social protection policies, and inequality through professional opportunities. Specifically, I worked at the World Bank as a consultant working on social protection in the Middle East during my university breaks from 2012 through 2017. In addition, I worked with American Near East Refugee Aid for six months in 2012 on program evaluation, particularly examining the effectiveness of a women’s urban-agriculture project in Lebanon’s Ein el-Helweh refugee camp. Overall, I have studied, worked, or conducted research in Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, and Kuwait as well as visited Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.
Personal photo: A view toward Syria from Huwwara, Jordan