What explains variation in secular and Islamist political identity and behavior? I argue that local variation in colonial settlement encouraged the development of distinct Tunisian political identities across localities. Using data on political mobilization at the moment of independence, I find that differential colonial investments in local land and schools produced divergent secular and Islamist political identities. This relationship operates through two mechanisms; first, high local land expropriation by the French weakened the religious land tenure system (the waqf system) and traditional Islamic schools in those areas. Second, the increased presence of agricultural colonial settlers is also correlated with a greater presence of local French schools and higher enrollment of native Tunisians in French primary education. This variation in colonial experience also informs contemporary patterns of partisanship and social cleavages in Tunisia.
Alexandra Blackman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Political Science Department at Stanford University and a pre-doctoral fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.