From Protest to Rebellion? Institutions and Protest Escalation in Autocracies.
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CitationVodopyanov, Anya. 2015. From Protest to Rebellion? Institutions and Protest Escalation in Autocracies.. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractMajor exogenous shocks, which increase the vulnerability of autocratic regimes, present a unique opportunity for citizens to rebel against their hegemons. Yet in practice, we observe significant variation in protest strategies across autocracies: in some, shock-induced demonstrations grow into mass rebellion while in others they remain tame and scattered and quickly fizzle. The goal of this project is to further our understanding of the variation in dynamics of protest escalation and, more generally, of contention under autocracy and conditions for authoritarian survival and change. My dissertation develops a new theoretical framework which bridges psychological, political economy, and historical institutional approaches. My central argument is that the likelihood of protest escalation hinges on a key aspect of autocratic design: the extent to which the autocratic elite institutionalizes opportunities for its popular base – the “minimal winning coalition” necessary for an uprising – to bargain with the state over non-strategic local matters, such as distribution or status positions. All things equal, autocrats who provide no spaces for bargaining are more likely to face protest escalation because top-down rule alienates their mass base by depriving it of voice and incentivizing predatory governance; by the same token, institutionalized bargaining can buy support because it endows the mass constituency with some leverage over state agents and encourages more client-oriented intermediation.
I evaluate these theoretical predictions against detailed qualitative and quantitative evidence from Syria and Jordan, two neighboring Arab states where the regional unrest of 2011 precipitated street protests. Using a natural border experiment, I show how the countries’ dissimilar institutional designs – Syria’s top-down model and Jordan’s bargaining-centric model – nurtured, over time, measurable differences in the mass constituencies’ relationship with the state, which directly affected the nature of protests in 2011. I demonstrate that already before 2011 the Syrian constituency was systematically more disaffected, economically independent, and more united than the Jordanian, and that this created a far more fertile ground for protest escalation in Syria than in Jordan. My research also suggests that government violence against protesters and non-violent tactics such as divide-and-rule are not independent explanations for escalation, but endogenous by-products of countries’ institutional foundations.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:23845491
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