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The Politics of Ignoring: Protest Dynamics in Late Mubarak Egypt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 December 2015


I propose the concept of “ignoring” to capture situations in which government officials appear dismissive (either through inaction or contempt) of popular mobilization. The concept refers not only to actions by regime officials but also captures protesters' perceptions of those actions. Examples of ignoring include not communicating with protesters, issuing condescending statements, physically evading protesters, or acting with contempt toward popular mobilization. Existing conceptual tools do not adequately capture these dynamics. Although repression and concessions have been extensively theorized, scholars lack conceptual tools to understand responses that fall short of both repression and concessions. I introduce the concept of “ignoring” as a useful tool to focus on a subset of actions on the part of regime officials who are the targets of mobilization, with discernible consequences for subsequent mobilization. Drawing on research on the role of emotions in protest politics and on framing and social movements, I argue that ignoring protests can trigger emotional responses that encourage people to engage in protest, such as anger, indignation, and outrage. By integrating protesters' perceptions of the behavior of the targets of mobilization, not just of the security forces, the concept of “ignoring” helps explain protesters' reactions and their future mobilization, in a way that conventional concepts such as tolerance cannot capture. This analysis has important implications for broader theoretical debates on the relationship between regime response to protests and subsequent mobilization. Most importantly, it urges scholars to consider how ignoring can interact with other responses to mobilization, thereby altering the dynamics of the infamous the “concession-repression dilemma.” I use evidence from workers' protests in late Mubarak Egypt to illustrate these dynamics.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2015 

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