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Teti 2011 With Gervasio MedPol Lessons From Arab Uprisings

Teti 2011 With Gervasio MedPol Lessons From Arab Uprisings

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Published by: Ronit Lentin on Sep 10, 2011
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This article was downloaded by: [University of Aberdeen]On: 16 August 2011, At: 10:34Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Mediterranean Politics
Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fmed20
The Unbearable Lightness of Authoritarianism: Lessons from theArab Uprisings
Andrea Teti
& Gennaro Gervasio
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Department of Modern History, Politics and InternationalRelations, Macquarie University, AustraliaAvailable online: 22 Jul 2011
To cite this article:
Andrea Teti & Gennaro Gervasio (2011): The Unbearable Lightness of Authoritarianism: Lessons from the Arab Uprisings, Mediterranean Politics, 16:2, 321-327
To link to this article:
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arisingdirectly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
The Unbearable Lightness of Authoritarianism: Lessons from theArab Uprisings
*Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen, Scotland;**Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University, Australia
On 17 December 2010, Mohamad Bouazizi set himself on fire in desperation in thesmall Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, sparking what became a revolution which inbarely 28 days toppled one of the most notorious autocrats in the Middle East andNorth Africa. The upheaval that followed, however, surprised even keen observers,not only successfully removing Zine el-Abidine Ben ‘Ali from what seemed like aseat of unchallengeable power, but sparking revolts against other autocrats acrossthe region, most famously in Egypt, but also in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and latterlySyria, with significant protests also in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia andthe Palestinian Occupied Territories. Today, as protesters in Tunisia and Egyptstruggle to consolidate their gains and others hope to emulate their successes, it is farfrom clear what enduring results these uprisings will yield. Some have called thelast few months an ‘Arab 1989’, while others have drawn analogies with Europe’sdoomed revolutions of 1848. Although the outcome of these unprecedenteduprisings and the precise nature of the changes currently taking place in Egypt andacross the region will only become apparent in the fullness of time, some importantlessons on their roots and significance can already be drawn.
The Frailty of Autocracy
The first lesson is that authoritarianism is often fragile. After the fall of the USSR,there was considerable optimism that global transitions to (liberal) democracy weresimply a matter of time. As the decade progressed, however, some eastern Europeancountries ‘backslidand democratization’s ‘third wave’ failed to spread to theMiddle East. In both regions, autocracies increasingly spoke the language of 
1362-9395 Print/1743-9418 Online/11/020321-7
2011 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/13629395.2011.583758
Correspondence Address
: Andrea Teti, Department of Politics and International Relations University of Aberdeen, Edward Wright Building, Aberdeen AB24 3QY. Email: a.teti@abdn.ac.uk 
 Mediterranean Politics,Vol. 16, No. 2, 321–327, July 2011
   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   A   b  e  r   d  e  e  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   1   6   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1
liberalism, while only enacting changes that were either cosmetic or easilyreversible. Explanations for this newfound authoritarian resilience offered by‘mainstream’ scholarship often originate in culturalist claims about Islam and Arabculture to the tools of patronage and coercion that keep regional autocrats in power.Others emphasized the novelty of this new form of governance, whichparadoxically dressed up repression and citizens’ exclusion from decision making inthe language of democracy: while granting democratic rights in principle, enactinglegislation especially ‘vigorous’ security legislation, draconian restrictions onindependent press and civil society, and the emasculation of parliaments of anylegislative or oversight functions – would make it impossible in practice. So strongdid authoritarianism’s grip on local politics appear to be, that some scholars evenrecently called for a shift away from studying ‘democratizationto ‘post-democratization’.And yet, while the combination of co-option and coercion destroyed much‘official’ opposition in the Arab world, making regime ‘stability’ appear convincing,stability and calm ought not to be conflated. Although most observers of MiddleEastern affairs were well aware of the lack of legitimacy most regimes sufferedfrom, this did not translate into scepticism about their solidity. In this sense, theevents of the last few months are an indictment of the profession not, as some havealleged, because they were not predicted very few expected the sheer scale of events, including protesters themselves – but because ferocity and strength were soeasily conflated.
Roots of Radicalization
The second lesson is that there are concrete limits to the speed and extent of neo-liberal reforms. The 25 January protests happened barely two days after the IMFcalled for further cuts in subsidies on essential goods in Egypt,
demonstratingsingularly bad political timing, and poor judgement of or possibly little regardfor – the impact that such reforms would have on most Egyptians. As in the cases of Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Jordan, debates about the roots of protest in Egyptquickly split between those who pointed to economic factors and those who thoughtprotest was primarily driven by political dissatisfaction. But the two are inextricablylinked. In the (gun)fire and fury, it is easy to forget that just as in Egypt’s firstJanuary
, in 1977, today’s protests are the direct result of neo-liberal reforms,both political and economic. Politically, liberalization without democratizationsimply marginalizes those it avowedly empowers: their increasing frustration cannotcome as a surprise.Economically, when liberalization leads to the emergence of monopolistic oroligopolistic market forces, with little regard for a more even wealth distribution,such reforms increase citizenssense of alienation from the state, furtherundermining the regime’s residual legitimacy. The economic impasse the region’s‘post-populist’ regimes faced was plain enough. Most macroeconomic indicatorswould lead one to believe that Egypt and Tunisia were rather success stories. InEgypt, for example, GDP growth nearly doubled over the decade, public debt was322
A. Teti & G. Gervasio
   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   A   b  e  r   d  e  e  n   ]  a   t   1   0  :   3   4   1   6   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1

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