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Cross-Regional Comparisons: The Arab Uprisings as Political Transitions and Social Movements

  • Agnieszka Paczynska (a1)

The Arab uprisings, like the fall of the Berlin Wall more than two decades ago, are watershed events that have raised fundamental questions about our understanding of the processes of political change, the emergence and diffusion of contentious collective action, and the role of the international context in facilitating or hindering political change. The uprisings have further strengthened a growing focus within Middle Eastern studies on framing questions about the social, economic, and political dynamics in the region in ways that allow for more robust linkages with comparative theorizing about the dynamics of contentious collective action and the processes of political change. In other words, the Arab uprisings have injected new energy into the comparative study of contentious politics. In addition to new research agendas the uprisings have also provided opportunities for introducing students in survey and theory courses to the region's political dynamics, enriching students' engagement with theoretical concepts and honing their critical thinking and analytical skills while making the Middle East less “exceptional” for the students. Here, I focus on how incorporating of Middle Eastern cases allows instructors to raise questions and engage students in discussions about the emergence and diffusion of contentious collective action.

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1 Bellin, Eva, Stalled Democracy: Capital, Labor, and the Paradox of State-Led Development (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002); Hinnebusch, Raymond, “Authoritarian Persistence, Democratization Theory and the Middle East: An Overview and Critique.” Democratization 13 (2006), 373–95; Brownlee, Jason, Authoritarianism in an Age of Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Schlumberger, Oliver, editor, Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).

2 See for example, Gurr, Ted Robert. Why Men Rebel: Fortieth Anniversary Edition (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011)

3 See for example, Bob, Clifford. Marketing Rebellion: Insurgents, Media and International Activism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), Tarrow, Sidney G.. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Revised and Updated Third Edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

4 Goldstone, Jack A. and Tilly, Charles, “Threat (and Opportunity): Popular Action and State Response in the Dynamics of Contentious Action.” In Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics, eds. Aminzade, al. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 182. See also, Tarrow, Power in Movement, 160–66; and McAdam, Doug, “Conceptual Origins, Current Problems, Future Directions,” in McAdam, Doug, McCarthy, John D., and Zald, Mayer N., editors. Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 2340.

5 Beinin, Joel and Vairel, Frederic, editors. Social Movements, Mobilization and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011). See also, Bayat, Asef. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), especially 209–20.

6 Kuran, Timur, “Now Out of Never: the Element of Surprise in the East European Revolutions of 1989.” World Politics, vol. 44, no. 1, 1991, 16.

7 See for example, Way, Lucan, “Lessons of 1989.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 22, no. 4 October 2011; Patel, David and Bunce, Valerie, “Turning Points and the Cross-National Diffusion of Popular Protest.” Newsletter of the APSA Democratization Section, vol. 10, no. 1, January 2012, 1, 10–13.

8 See Kuran, “Now Out of Never.” World Politics.

9 For an interesting discussion of the relationship between mobilization and repression in East Central Europe, see Ekiert, Grzegorz. The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

10 See for example Mitchell, Lincoln A.. The Color Revolutions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

11 Paczynska, Agnieszka, “Inequality, Political Participation, and Democratic Deepening in Poland.” East European Politics and Societies, vol. 19, no. 4, 2005.

12 For a comparative examination of East Central European transitions, see for example Linz, Juan and Stephan, Alfred. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Zielonka, Jan. Democratic Consolidation in East Central Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

13 See for example, Glenny, Misha. The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War (New York: Penguin Books, 1996).

14 For a discussion of the divergent dynamics of the uprisings, see for example Lynch, Marc. The Arab Uprisings: The Unfinished Revolutions in the Middle East (New York: Public Affairs, 2012).

15 See for example, Grzymala-Busse, Anna M.. Redeeming the Communist Past: the Regeneration of Communist Parties in East Central Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), especially pages 1968; Stark, David and Bruszt, Laszlo. Post-Socialist Pathways: Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

16 See for example, Geddes, Barbara, “What Do We Know About Democratization After Twenty Years?Annual Review of Political Science vol. 2, 1999, 115–44; Hadenius, Axel and Teorell, Jan, “Pathways from Authoritarianism.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 18, no. 1, January 2007, 143–57.

17 Way, Lucan A., “The Lessons of 1989.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 22, no. 4, October 2011, 1920; see also Levitsky, Steven and Way, Lucan A.. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Brownlee, Jason. Democracy Prevention: The Politics of U.S.-Egyptian Alliance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

18 On the growing role of emerging powers in provision of development and humanitarian assistance, see for example, Sherman, Jake, Gleason, Megan M., Sidhu, W.P.S., Jones, Bruce, editors. Engagement on Development and Security: New Actors, New Debates. (New York: Center on International Cooperation, New York University, September 2011); and White, Stacey, “Emerging Donors, Emerging Powers: Teasing out Development Patterns.” (Washington, DC: Center for International and Strategic Studies, February 2011); Paczynska, Agnieszka, “Emerging Donors and Post-Conflict Reconstruction.” Global Studies Review, Fall 2011.

19 See for instance, Patel, David and Bunce, Valerie, “Turning Points and the Cross-National Diffusion of Popular Protest.” Newsletter of the APSA Democratization Section, vol. 10, no. 1, January 2012, 1, 10–13.

20 See for example, Bunce, Valerie and Wolchik, Sharon. Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Post-Communist Countries (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

21 Tilly, Charles, “To Explain the Political Process.” The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 100, no. 6, 1995, 1600.

22 Beissinger, Mark R., “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomenon: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 5, no. 2, 2007, 269: see also, Hydemann, Steven and Leenders, Reinoud, “Authoritarian Learning and Authoritarian Resilience: Regime Responses to the ‘Arab Awakening’.” Globalizations, vol. 8, no. 5, 2011, 647–53.

23 Hydemann and Leenders, 650.

24 Given the many similarities between the Middle East and Central Asia, some scholars expected that this region too would experience popular challenges to authoritarian rule. See for example, Paczynska, Agnieszka, “Revolutionary Tremors in Central Asia?” Jadaliyya, April 20, 2011; Radnitz, Scott, “Waiting for Spring.” Foreign Policy, February 17, 2012.

25 Sidney Tarrow. Power in Movement, 167–90.

26 See for example Beillin, Eva, “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring.” Comparative Politics, vol. 44, no. 2, 2012, 137–38.

27 Przeworski, Adam. Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 34.

28 Pavehouse, Jon, “Democracy from Outside-In? International Organizations and Democratization.” International Organization, vol. 56, no. 3, 2002.

29 Beissinger, Mark R., “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomenon: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 5, no. 2, 2007, 260.

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PS: Political Science & Politics
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