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The Study of Democratization and the Arab Spring*

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image of Middle East Law and Governance

This paper proposes and illustrates a framework for analysis of the recent events in Middle Eastern and North African countries (the so-called Arab Spring) by bringing into dialogue recent theoretical advances in democratization theory with the comparative-historical literature on the political development of the MENA region. We advocate two analytical shifts from conventional approaches in the analysis of the Arab Spring: first, reconsider the temporalities of democratization processes; second, focus on struggles over specific institutional arenas rather than over the regime as a whole. The former recommendation draws attention both to the strategies used by key actors in the political, economic, and civil society spheres, and to the historical legacies that built the influence and resources of these actors over time. The latter allows us to consider the institutional safeguards for old elites that are likely to be included in the post-authoritarian regimes emerging in the region. Even though some of these safeguards are clearly anti-democratic, historical examples show that they do not necessarily preclude democratization. Indeed, in some cases, their introduction might be necessary to achieve democratic openings in other arenas. We illustrate these theoretical points with reference to the case of Egypt.

Affiliations: 1: University of Massachusetts, Amherst; 2: University of Oxford,


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