Skip to main content

Response to Howard and Walters


This response points to three critical problems in Explaining the Unexpected. First, the authors' contention that scholars ignored “everyday contestation,” including changing citizen-state relations, emerging venues of political participation, and the potential for mobilization, is based on a selective reading of the literature on politics in the Arab world before 2011. Second, their assertion that existing paradigms hindered scholars' ability to understand change mischaracterizes the literature on enduring authoritarianism. Scholars did not argue that regime breakdown was impossible before 2011 but rather sought to understand why authoritarian regimes were sustained. Long before the uprisings, they recognized the factors that could make breakdown possible. Third, Howard and Walters' conclusion that Middle East scholars' fundamental paradigms and their focus on regime type will lead them to treat “utterly remarkable waves of mass mobilization as politically inconsequential” is misplaced. The literature has and continues to explore a wide range of issues that extend far beyond democratization, and recent scholarship has examined varied aspects of the diverse political processes and outcomes witnessed since 2011. Explaining the Unexpected misses the mark on many points, but it does provide a useful platform for scholars to reflect on problems facing comparative politics. These include the blinders resulting from the normative biases underpinning the discipline and the need for a nuanced discussion about how, and to what extent, scholars facing rapid, regional transformations can learn from the study of similar experiences in other regions.

Hide All
Albrecht Holger, ed. 2010. Contentious Politics in the Middle East: Political Opposition under Authoritarianism. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Beinin Joel, and Vairel Frédéric. 2011. Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Cantori Louis J., Jacoby Tim, Carapico Sheila, Shehata Samer, Lust-Okar Ellen, Bargu-Hasturk Banu, Robinson Glenn E. and Al-Kitbi Ebtesam. 2002. “Political Succession in the Middle East.” Middle East Policy 9(3): 105–23.
El-Mahdi Rabab, and Marfleet Philip, eds. 2009. Egypt: The Moment of Change. London: Zed Books.
Lust Ellen. 2009. “Democratization by Elections? Competitive Clientelism in the Middle East.” Journal of Democracy July 20(3): 122–35.
Lust Ellen. 2011. “Why Now? Micro Transitions and the Arab Uprisings.” Available on The Monkey Cage, (accessed February 10, 2014).
Lust-Okar Ellen. 2005. “Why the Failure of Democratization? Explaining ‘Middle East Exceptionalism.’” Unpublished manuscript available at (accessed February 24, 2014).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 27 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 115 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.