Transitions away from Authoritarian Rule

The political landscape is a dynamic field, constantly shifting and changing due to global and local events. Governments and regimes are susceptible to political variability and can be greatly affected by a number of factors such as economic stability and Internationals pressures. A significant question comparatists ask is whether regime shifts from an authoritarian government always result in a democracy. Levitsky and Way’s article on Competitive Authoritarianism state that, in some way or another, regime transitions result in some form of increased democracy. This article fails to identify key components of recent revolutions such as religion and social media, and therefore incorrectly asses shifts in power.

Levitsky and Way assert that many nations begin to democratize either when conditions become so poor that leaders must reform or face revolution, or improved economic conditions result in a demand for greater democratization due to the population’s increased political activity. Once the authoritarian regime is removed, the nation begins to democratize. Both of these theories fail to fully explain the Arab Spring.

In most Middle Eastern countries that experienced a regime change during the Arab Spring, it was not due to economics. Regime’s constituents yearned for freedom and revolutionary ideas were disseminated far easier through the utilization of social media. Protestors tired of their government’s repressive practices rallied and toppled their respective regimes. The situation deteriorated rapidly in the post-authoritarian power vacuum.

Revolting political entities began clashing over whether new regimes should be secular or religious. The Muslim brotherhood gained power through democratic elections in Egypt, then began enacting suppressive practices against secular political opposition to maintain power, similar to that of the previous authoritarian regime.  The military then executed a coup that has left the nation in a tense stasis.  The emergence of ISIS in Syria has caused significant religious tension within the region as well, and threatened the stability of neighboring countries such as Turkey and Iraq.

Both the implementation of social media and the introduction of religious agendas to revolutionary ideals are factors that Levitsky and Way had not accounted for in their original analysis of transitions.  For many people in the Middle East, the Arab Spring has resulted in more chaos and economic turmoil than bargained for.


Hubbard, Ben and Rick Gladstone. “Arab Spring Countries Find Peace is harder than Revolution.” The New York Times, August 14, 2013.

Levitsky, Steven and Lucan Way. 2010. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1.

Simpson, John. “Who are the Winners and Losers from the Arab Spring?” BBC, November 12, 2014.


3 thoughts on “Transitions away from Authoritarian Rule

  1. I thought it was interesting that you brought up the regime changes in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring. This situation seemed similar to some of the events brought about Son of the Revolution. In Son of the Revolution, the Chinese were in a similar place as the people in the Middle East were during the Arab Spring. There were few brave souls that rebelled against the government. However, in the end, there was no chance of a democratic government because the Mao government was so repressive of its people. I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems like a transition away from an authoritarian regime to a democratic regime is not feasible in areas like the Middle East and China in the 50’s and 60’s. Although there have been few braves souls that have rebelled against the government, there seems to be little democratic hope for these countries, not because of factors like economics, but simply because they have such a strong authoritarian background.

    Even if the Chinese and Middle East governments were able to move away from some authoritarian tactics, I believe they would never quite be able to call themselves a “democracy.”

  2. Interesting discussion of religion and the Arab Spring. We will talk about the Arab Spring today a bit but also in two weeks. Glad that you made that link.

  3. Describing the political landscape as “a dynamic field, constantly shifting and changing due to global and local events’ highlights the vibrancy of people responding to the world around them. Both religion and social media reflect and are influenced by people. And at the same time both have a significant impact on people and cultures and the balance of power. While one is ancient and one is very modern, they both engage people in powerful ways and they often entice people to take action. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that through their engagement with religion and social media people learn about and are encouraged to take action. Social media has provided religion with efficient communication tools that brings a new level of power to everyday people.

    Religion and social media converged very recently in the Middle East. Some people suggest that rumors spread via social media played a critical role in the stabbings in Jerusalem. Through social media, a message was shared that the Israeli government wanted to limit access to the Temple Mount, a piece of land that is sacred and extremely important to both Muslims and Jews. In response to what people were told through social media, they pursued action. This was outside of the established political order and greatly impacted the political landscape in an area already known for extreme volatility. Sadly, like the Arab Spring, the recent events in Israel have led to chaos and steps backwards in other areas like the Galilee where violence also erupted. And the Galilee is not the West Bank or Gaza. In fact, Arab Christians, Arab Muslims, Druze, Bedouin, and Jews are all citizens of a democratic state – Israel.

    So many factors including a stalled peace process, unsuccessful efforts toward a two state solution, and distrust fed into political instability. And, the violence and rumors that came out of social media contributed to more distrust and reactive policies and activity rather than proactive democratic actions.

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