Policy Memos

Patronage, Islam, and the Rise of Localism in Central Asia

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While ideologies and elites change, patronage politics remains the preferred strategy of Central Asia’s autocrats. Aspiring presidents-for-life distribute wealth to handpicked appointees who reciprocate by implementing, to varying degrees, executive policy. Shared strategies of rule, however, do not translate into shared state capacity. The trains do not always run on time, and in many places in Central Asia, the trains do not run at all. Similarly, just as these transport lines linking capital and region have stalled, so too in several states are the political sinews linking center and periphery frozen. Behind this malaise are two causal variables: (1) differing economic resources of patronage rule and (2) differing degrees of Islamic revivalism. In Kazakhstan, where economic resources are bountiful and the growth of Islam, in particular the growth of local-level Islamic societies, is limited, the Nazarbaev regime is adept at sustaining centralized autocratic rule. In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, where economic resources are few and where, curiously, greater dialogue with the global Muslim community is encouraging the rise of locally-oriented Islamic societies, regional and religious elites are building new governance structures in defiance of centralized patronage rule. [...]

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About the author

Associate Professor; School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs
George Mason University