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Patel: Ayatollahs on the Pareto Frontier

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Patel. 2005. Ayatollahs on the Pareto Frontier: The institutional bases of religious authority in Iraq. Unpublished.


Under Saddam, the Baath party dismantled Iraqi civil society; when government order collapsed after the war, the absence of civil society made it difficult for communities to coordinate around new norms. A massive set of coordination problems arose: where do you put your trash if there is not garbage collection, how do we keep our neighborhood safe, and so on. Because all Muslim men are required to attend Friday sermons, the mosques quickly became the focal point for solving these coordination problems.



Y1: Local coordination. How well do people solve local coordination problems like community safety and trash disposal?

X1: If there is exactly one mosque in a community, then it will coordinate well. Zero or 2+ will result in sub-optimal coordination. And when there is more than one mosque, coordination (i.e. adherence to community norms) will be highest near the mosque (since everybody goes to the same mosque) than in areas between mosques (where people from a single neighborhood don't all go to the same mosque).


Y2: National coordination. How well do they coordinate in elections, in attitudes about the new constitution, and so on?

X2: Since Shiite clerics fall under the hierarchical influence of a handful of Ayatollahs (mainly Sistani but also Sadr), Shiites will coordinate their sermons (across mosques) and therefore coordinate better on national issues than Sunnis will (since Sunni clerics have complete autonomy in what they say on Fridays)


For individuals to comply with an authority's (i.e. mosque's/cleric's) proposed "rule," three things must happen.

  1. The authority must have the ability to disseminate the rule and make it common knowledge.
  2. "A sufficient number of people must believe that others will follow the announcement" (7)
  3. The message must specify self-enforcing behavior. (If it is solving a coordination problem, then it is self-enforcing; I don't care what we do as long as we all do the same thing. If it creates a free-rider problem, it isn't self-enforcing--it requires police and courts.)

Mosques vary in their ability to do 1 and 2 according to the variables above (X1 and X2). As for 3, that simply determines which clerical statements will have the strongest effects. For example, simple statements for or against CPA proposals are probably simply solving coordination problems; more complex statements (i.e. Sadr's proposal for a shadow government or his call for an uprising) create free-rider problems, and are therefore adhered to less.


Electoral Coordination (National coordination)

Mosques under Sistani's influence endorsed a single list for that National Assembly elections (proportional representation in a single nationwide district), but did not endorse candidates for the Governate Council (local representatives). Even though these elections were held on the same day, the ENPP was much higher in the GC races than in the NA race because there was no coordination for the GC.

However, Sunni regions did not observe a similar difference between GC and NA races, because coordination was largely absent at both levels.

Trash Disposal (local coordination)

In one mosque, the cleric solved a coordination problem by specifying four places in which people should dump their trash (until garbage pickup resumed). This kept the streets and ditches clean. But in a neighborhood served by this mosque in addition to some other ones, the coordination did not happen, because not everybody heard the same message. Thus, that neighborhood had lots of trash in the streets.

Research on similar subjects


Patel, David (author)Comparative PoliticsCulturePublic Opinion

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