Archive | Protest

Moscow Mayoral Election: Results from Exit Polls Look Like Numbers that Can Provoke Protest in National Elections


I wanted to make a quick initial observation about today’s Moscow mayoral election. The exit polls are showing the opposition leader Alexei Navalny doing better than expected at close to 30% of the vote, but losing handily to Putin ally and incumbent Sergei Sobyanin. The key figure here to watch, however, is Sobyanin’s share of the vote, which is currently being estimate in some exit polls as running around 52-53%. The reason the exact level is important is that the Moscow mayoral election uses a two-round majoritarian voting rule, meaning that if Sobyanin gets more than 50% of the vote, he avoids a second round run off in which he would have to go up against only Navalny. Although Navalny is losing handily in the first round, with Sobyanin’s support hovering just north of 50% it is by no means assured what would happen in a second round, especially as turnout can change across the different rounds of the election.

But equally importantly, these looks like the sorts of results that could trigger post-election protests if there is suspicion of electoral fraud (and Navalny is claiming his exit polls show Sobyanin’s support at 46%). The reason here is that although the actual results are not that close, Sobyanin being so close to 50% may lead voters to think that fraud tipped the outcome of the election in favor of the incumbent. As I have argued previously in an article in Perspectives on Politics, these types of elections can be especially conducive to protest because (a) they create an expectation that other people my also be protesting, thus lowering the potential cost to any individual of joining a protest while at the same time (b) they hold open the promise of a real benefit to protesting, i.e. potentially changing the outcome of the election.

There are two important caveats to consider. First, I have yet to see accusations of electoral fraud in this election – at the moment there are simply different claims as to what exit polls show the results should be. However, these are precisely the types of situations that can lead to accusations of electoral fraud later, and recent Russian elections have certainly not been immune to charges of electoral fraud. The second caveat is potentially more important, which is that the argument I made was in the context of national elections, where protest could really “throw the bums out”. We don’t yet know if similar dynamics are likely to be at work in election for a regional office. That being said, the mayor of Moscow, a city of 12 million people and the center of the Russian state, is about as important a local official as they come.

And to be clear, there are plenty of other reasons why people might not protest. There could be protest fatigue from the 2011-2012 Russian protests. There could be a fear of a harsh crack-down from security forces. There could be a sense that even if the first round results are overturned, the result will be just be the same in the next round. Or people could trust that the results are correct. (Or, still unknown at the time of this writing, the official results could even place Sobyanin below 50%, which I think would definitely not trigger protests.) But at this moment, past examples suggest that at the very least conditions are ripe for post-election protest should Moscovites sufficiently value the outcome of this peculiar “local” election.

[Photo Credit: The Wasington Post]

Continue Reading

Why Sit-Ins Succeed – Or Fail

In view of today’s events in Egypt, I wanted to encourage writers to see Monkey Cage occasional contributor Erica Chenoweth’s article at Foreign Affairs with the same title as this blog post from earlier this week. She writes:

Civil resistance involves unarmed people using a combination of actions, such as strikes, protests, sit-ins, boycotts, and stay-away demonstrations, to build power and effect change…. Although there is no set formula that guarantees success, from 1900 to 2006, the single most important factor was wide participation. The larger and more broad-based the campaign was, the more likely it was to succeed. In fact, all of the other factors associated with success—elite defections and the backfiring of repression—seemed to depend in part on the size and diversity of the campaign to begin with. That all makes sense: large campaigns are more likely to seriously disrupt the status quo. Diverse campaigns are more likely to be perceived as representative, hence legitimate.

Take, for example, Egypt in 2011. Small protests that began on January 25 soon escalated. They came to involve millions of Egyptians from a remarkable cross-section of society. President Hosni Mubarak attempted to disperse protestors occupying Tahrir Square, but he soon found that his own security forces were unreliable. Many simply ignored his orders and others joined the protests outright. Contrast that example with the recent Muslim Brotherhood-led sit-ins. Those involve primarily young men, whose claims to legitimacy are contested. Although these civilians do have allies among the Egyptian population, they do not boast the same numbers as the Tamarod movement that ousted Morsi, which had its roots in earlier anti-Mubarak sentiment. And whereas Tamarod assembled tens of millions of signatures calling for Morsi to step down and led influential government elites to defect, the pro-Morsi faction has not.

The piece concludes with a note of caution:

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about civil resistance is that several weeks of street demonstrations or sit-ins can bring about major systemic change. On the contrary, the average civil resistance campaign takes nearly three years to run its course. Although three years might sound like an eternity, the average violent campaign takes three times longer and is twice as likely to end in failure. History shows that civil resistance campaigns tend to succeed when they build the quantity and quality of participants, select tactics that provoke loyalty shifts among ruling elites, prepare enough to maintain nonviolent discipline, and skillfully change course under fire to minimize the damage to participants. All of this takes time, organization, preparation, and a good deal of strategic imagination.

The full piece – definitely worth a read – is available here.

[h/t to Daniel Treisman.]

Continue Reading

Political Communication and Repression in Russia – Or What Do Alexei Navalny and Mitt Romney Have in Common?

Alexei Navalny getting arrested

The following is a guest post from political scientists Graeme Robertson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Samuel Greene of King’s College London.


On Thursday  July 18, as anyone with more than a passing interest in Russia or the Monkey Cage already knows, Russian anti-corruption campaigner and Moscow Mayoral candidate, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment on charges of embezzling about $500 000 from a forestry firm for which he had never worked. The trial had been a long time in the works and the sentence was not surprising. Yet somehow, even if it was not surprising, it was still jarring – to us at least. That travesties of justice and political repression have become expected in Russia these days is no reason not to be horrified when they happen.

So much for the morality of the case, what about the politics? Repression, after all, is not just personal, but also political, and is intended not just to deal with a particular target, but also “pour encourager les autres”. Moreover, Navalny is no ordinary defendant, but a candidate right in the middle of a race to become mayor of Russia’s capital city – perhaps the third most high profile position in Russia after president and prime minister. The prosecutors themselves requested that the court release Navalny pending his appeal, giving him some time – maybe a month, maybe two – to campaign ahead of the September 8 ballot. So how did the political message of Navalny’s trial go down with ‘les autres’? As it happens, not much differently than a Mitt Romney ad in the U.S.—more about that in a minute.

There has been much debate about what the Navalny verdict and subsequent decision to release him pending appeal would mean for Russian politics. Fortunately, we have some data that allow informed (if clearly not definitive) analysis of these issues. The data come from two sources – daily telephone tracking polls looking at levels of support for the various candidates in the Moscow race (conducted by Synovate ComCon), and an Internet survey of educated, middle-class Muscovites that was in the field when the verdict was handed down (conducted by the authors with the generous financial support of the Smith Richardson Foundation).

The first thing to note is just how politically tuned in educated, middle class Muscovites are. In the 48 hours after the verdict (when the field work was completed), some 87 percent of respondents in our Internet sample reported being aware of the case against Navalny, and 70 percent said they knew the verdict. Interestingly, the high levels of awareness of the Navalny case do not seem exceptional – fully 89 percent of respondents said that they had head of the trials of the Bolotnoe protesters. Of these, only 15 percent thought the sentences handed down in these cases appropriate, while 53 percent saw the Bolotnoe cases as “political show trials”. In other words, the public message of repression in today’s Russia is “received and understood”.

So how is Russian repression like a Mitt Romney ad? Because the Navalny sentence produced more or less the same effect you get from launching a big television ad buy in a US presidential election – a short-lived bounce that dissipates in a week. For Navalny, being repressed by the Putin regime was worth about a 10-point bounce in the polls. In the internet survey, of the 492 respondents who answered either before the sentences were announced, or who were unaware of the verdict, 12 percent said they intended to vote for Navalny in the mayoral election. Among those who answered after and knew the verdict (151 people), Navalny’s support was 23 percent. Without a panel design, we can’t know who moved, but in aggregate all of that bounce seems to have come at the expense the incumbent and Putin-favored candidate Sergei Sobyanin, whose support fell from 34 percent to 24 percent.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

The Strange Court Case of Aleksei Navalny: What Comes Next?

The following guest post is from McGill University political scientist Maria Popova, the author of Politicized Justice in Emerging Democracies: a Study of Courts in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge University Press, 2012).


On July 18th, Russia’s best known oppositionist, anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 5 years in prison.  His co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov received 4 years.  After Judge Blinov from Kirov’s Leninskii District Court finished reading the verdicts, the convicted were taken into custody and sent to jail, where they would await the results of their appeals.  Few were surprised by the guilty verdicts, but many had expected the sentences to be suspended, rather than effective. Certainly, no one expected what happened next.  On July 19th, the prosecutor asked the court to release Navalny and Ofitserov on bail.  The prosecutor argued that Navalny had a constitutional right to contest the September 2013 Moscow mayoral election, for which he had been registered as an official candidate only a couple of days earlier.  Judge Blinov immediately granted the prosecution’s request and by the end of the day Navalny and Ofitserov were back in Moscow, where they addressed a crowd of jubilant supporters.  The unprecedented nature of what happened in the provincial Russian courtroom cannot be overstated.  Releasing a convicted person on bail, although possible under the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, is an exceedingly rare occurrence.  Rare, as in there may have been a handful of cases in recent memory.  A request for bail from the prosecution, rather than from the defense, experienced Russian jurists claim, is a first!

The convictions and the swift bail release are perceived in Russia and abroad as an indication of the subordination of the judiciary to political incumbents, rather than as a reflection of the vagaries of the legal process.  The bail release is not an unequivocal victory for the defendants, but, at best, a short respite.  Russian acquittal rates are below 1% and appellate courts usually decrease, rather than increase, this percentage.  At worst, as a prominent Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, put it, by convicting and then releasing Navalny, the regime showed who was boss.  With the convictions the regime turned the court from an adjudicative organ into a punitive one and with the bail release it turned the prosecution from an accusatory organ into one employed by the defense  (text in Russian available here).

What comes next for Navalny?  He has re-stated his intention to contest the Moscow mayoral election and his determination to win the race.  However, he may not be able to finish the campaign and stand in the election due to the conviction that is now hanging over him.  Russian municipal election law prohibits persons with convictions “that have entered into legal force” from standing in an election.  If and when Navalny’s conviction “enters into legal force”, the Moscow election commission will be legally obligated to take down his registration and remove him from the ballot.  The question is when the conviction can or will enter into force.  According to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code, first-instance court convictions enter into force 10 days after they have been issued, if there is no appeal filed.  We can assume that Navalny will appeal.  Then the conviction enters into force on the day the appellate court upholds it.  If the appellate court in Kirov upholds his conviction before election day (September 8th), Navalny will be out of the race and will not be allowed to continue campaigning.  The prosecution and the Kirov court moved very quickly with the bail hearing, so it appears possible that the appellate court could rule on the appeal soon.

Generalizing from the Navalny trial about the functioning of the entire Russian judiciary is problematic, not only because this is only one case, but also because of the very high salience of the Navalny prosecution.  Research that goes beyond the high-profile cases has painted a more mixed picture of the performance of the Russian judiciary.  Yes, there is evidence that Russian judicial independence is circumscribed by strong discipline within the judicial hierarchy, court financing by the regional authorities, practices of ex parte communication, and other structural conditions (Solomon Jr and Foglesong, 2000; Baird and Javeline, 2010; Ledeneva, 2008; Popova 2012).  But Russian courts at all levels are also routinely used by comparatively high and ever increasing numbers of Russian citizens to settle civil and business disputes and to seek redress for the unlawful behavior of state representatives (Solomon Jr. 2004, Hendley, 2002, 2004, Trochev 2012, etc.).  Moreover, a comparison of Russian and Ukrainian judicial output in the late 1990s-early 2000s suggests that in two important legal issue areas (electoral registration disputes and defamation lawsuits against media outlets), the Russian courts were less politicized than the Ukrainian courts (Popova, 2010; Popova 2012).  In Russia, politically powerful plaintiffs had less advantage over other plaintiffs when they went to court.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

Morsi was No Role Model for Islamic Democrats

The following guest post is from UT-Austin political scientist Jason Brownlee, the author of Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance.  The post originally appeared on the website of the Middle East Institute.


Before 3 July 2013 enters the annals of U.S.-backed anti-Islamist coups[1] it is worth noting that Mohamed Morsi’s ill-fated presidency differs from prior cases. Whereas the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Hamas posed a threat (however chimeric) to Washington, Morsi quickly won plaudits from U.S. officials. Meanwhile, he menaced the domestic opposition with an autocratic panache. When Morsi exceeded his elected mandate and refused to share power, secularists and Salafists rose against him—while the U.S. Embassy in Cairo urged restraint.

The distinctness of the Egyptian example limits how much one can generalize from this month’s events to the past overthrow or future prospects of elected Islamists. Morsi’s tenure diverged from other cases in three key respects: his assault upon rival state institutions; his alignment with U.S. foreign policy; and his adversarial relationship with more conservative Islamists.

Speaking a week ago to ABC, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said the Egyptian military’s takeover displayed “all the ingredients, political science-wise, of a coup.”[2] Referring to how the army had shut down pro-Morsi television stations and detained Muslim Brotherhood leaders, he added: “It’s every ingredient of a full police state.” True enough, but if those are the ingredients of autocracy, el-Haddad’s colleagues in the presidential palace had been baking the same pie since last November. That’s when Morsi executed what was, “political science-wise,” a self-coup, or auto-golpe,[3] by placing himself and the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly above judicial review. Although Morsi magnanimously let his supreme powers expire after voters approved the constitution in a referendum, his supporters besieged Egypt’s highest court to ensure it could not thwart the president.

In subsequent months, Morsi used a familiar bag of dirty tricks against his opponents while his partisans captured the state. A caretaker legislature, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, tried to weaken the judiciary, thugs menaced television stations critical of Morsi,[4] and the public prosecutor targeted the country’s most trenchant dissidents. El-Haddad’s observation notwithstanding, the 3 July coup is not a post hoc validation of Morsi’s own power grab. While some observers may liken the fallen president to Salvador Allende,[5] his tactics recall the worst years of Ferdinand Marcos and Alberto Fujimori, democratically elected presidents who clutched more power than voters gave them.

For the same reason that Morsi belongs in the company of Marcos, it is fallacious to place him and the Brotherhood alongside Islamist parties who were never so repressive. Before the FIS even built a legislative majority, much less started legislating, the Algerian army froze elections. In the Palestinian Authority, Hamas sought to build a bi-partisan coalition[6] after its January 2006 election victory—only to be rebuffed by Fatah, which was in turn being egged on by the George W. Bush administration. The reported U.S.-backed coup attempt of 2007[7] was a final attempt to prevent the two sides from forming a national unity government. In sum, analogies between Morsi and other cases should start with his assault on institutions, not his religious ideology.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

This is Not the End of Islamism in Egypt: Beyond the Pro- and Anti-Islamist Divide

We welcome another guest post from Elizabeth Nugent, a PhD student in the department of politics at Princeton University who is currently in Cairo, Egypt conducting pre-dissertation research.


The summer of 2013 is proving to be the breaking point in the bitter political turmoil that has plagued Egypt following the January 2011 protests and ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. On July 3, democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in a decision made by the military, which simultaneously stripped Morsi of his powers and appointed the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, as acting president, suspended the constitution passed under Morsi’s watch, and installed an interim government charged with holding early presidential elections. While Egypt’s midans cheered this as a solution to the political deadlock that had shut down the country for the better part of a week, Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their supporters were resisting his forced resignation with words, fists, and sticks throughout the night, and being met with widespread arrests.

Some media accounts of recent events have categorized them as the result of conflict between two sides, an Islamist government pitted against a “mostly secular opposition” that “opposed the Islamist agenda of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.” These descriptions may be applicable to the leading opposition parties within the National Salvation Front coalition, but it is not an accurate portrayal of the opinion of the majority of those reportedly 17.5 million individuals who participated in this weekend’s protests or the Egyptian people more largely. This false dichotomy suggests that these protests and tensions center on issues related to religion and state, and implies a certain misunderstanding of Egyptian political attitudes.

It would be a mistake to read the mobilization against the president and in support of the military as simply anti-Islamist, as a political ideology. These protests and mobilization have been anti-Muslim Brotherhood, as a political entity – albeit an Islamist one – whose political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, has failed its constituents. The Tamarud campaign which first initiated this week’s mobilization focused solely on the political failures of Morsi in terms of substantive domestic and foreign policy issues, outlined in the petition circulated and signed by over 22 million Egyptians, without referencing any issue pertaining to the relationship between religion and state. One, then, would be hard pressed to describe current events in Egypt as a referendum on Islamism – unless one incorrectly equates Islamism, in Egypt or more generally, exclusively with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the FJP’s governing days may be over, it is too soon to declare the end of Islamism.

Islamism can be defined as support for the introduction of Islamic tenets into political life through the implementation of sharia. This admittedly vague definition allows us to classify both parties (those with political platforms promoting sharia) and individuals (those who agree with the concept of implementing sharia) as Islamist.

Recent survey data suggests that the vast majority of Egyptians are Islamists, as they continue to support in high numbers the implementation of sharia and its introduction into their country’s laws. In April 2013, Pew released a report titled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society”, which included a nationally representative sample of 1,798 Egyptians. The data was collected in November and December 2011, and hardly paints a picture of a stark secular-religious divide, or wide scale support for secularism in the definition commonly used. Rather, Egyptians overwhelmingly support the integration of religion and politics.

The survey’s questions pertaining to the political role of sharia are particularly interesting. 74 percent favored making sharia the official law of their country, and this level of support varied little across age, gender, and education groups. Of those who favored making sharia the law of the land, 70 percent wanted sharia to apply to both Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The survey differentiated between and asked about support for a number of policies that might be considered part of Islamic law. There were high levels of support for many of these practices among those Egyptians who supported the implementation of sharia: 94 percent wanted religious judges (instead of civil courts) to decide family and property matters; 70 percent wanted corporal (hadd) punishments for crimes; 81 percent supported stoning as punishment for adultery; and 86 percent supported punishing those who converted from Islam with death. When asked “How closely do your country’s laws follow sharia?”, 39 percent of the sampled Egyptians responded that they did somewhat or very closely, while 56 percent responded that the laws did not follow sharia. More importantly, when asked whether it was positive or negative that the country’s laws did not follow sharia, only 25 percent of individuals said it was a good thing, with 67 percent saying it was a bad thing. Arab barometer data collected in June 2011 also found that 80% of a 1200-person nationally representative sample of Egyptians agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “The government and parliament should enact laws in accordance with Islamic law.”

Admittedly, these data are almost 2 years old, and were collected before Morsi took office. But more recent polls suggest the same strong support for Islamism continues, and the large scale swing in support for Morsi did not occur in tandem with a wide scale swing in support for Islamism. Pew recently released another report (“Egyptians Increasingly Glum”) using survey data collected in March 2013 among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Egyptians. 58 percent supported having Egyptian laws strictly following the Quran, down only 4 percentage points since the center asked the question in 2011. An additional 28 percent supported Egyptian laws following the values and principles of Islam (compared with 27 and 32 percent in 2011 and 2012, respectively). While the percentage of those who did not want Egyptian laws to be influenced by the Quran rose from 5 percent in 2011 to 11 percent in 2013, the vast majority of those polled continued to support Islamism.

This public opinion data suggests an interesting distinction we have not yet fully made in analyses of current events in Egypt. Egyptian citizens overwhelmingly support the mixing of religion and politics. They also just protested in historic numbers against an Islamist ruling party. The political questions facing the Egyptian electorate, then, appear to be what form of Islamism, which Islamists, which of the social, economic, and political laws included in sharia to implement, and how – and perhaps most importantly, how to balance all of this with a democratic system reflecting the will of the people (the data similarly reveal high levels of support for democracy among Egyptians).

In post-Mubarak Egypt, where the Brotherhood is no longer the only Islamist game in town, we do ourselves a disservice to think about Egyptian politics as a binary of pro- and anti-Islamist. There are currently a number of Islamist parties for Egyptian voters to consider, including but not limited to the Building and Development party, formed by the once violent Gama`a Islamiyya and which seeks to establish a democracy based on sharia law; the Flag party, founded earlier this year by popular cleric Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail; the Nour Party, a Salafi party that surprised by winning almost a third of contested seats in Egypt’s 2011 parliamentary elections; the Watan party, which split with Nour over disagreements over the level of political involvement from Salafi clerics. At the very least, Egyptian political currents might currently be divided between three strands: pro-Brotherhood Islamists, anti-Brotherhood Islamists, and secularists. Even better, we might start to think of Islamism as a spectrum – with more and less Islamist individuals and parties, conservative and liberal Islamists and parties – based on developing political ideologies and concrete political platforms.

So what, then, does June 30 and its aftermath tell us about support for Islamism in Egypt? It doesn’t tell us that Islamism, as a political ideology, is any less popular in post-Mubarak Egypt than it was before 2011. It does, however, demonstrate that Egyptian political actors are continuing to negotiate the relationship between their religion and their politics. It reveals that Islamist parties will be treated just like every other kind of party. Despite the religious nature of some or all of their political platforms, goals, and rhetoric, they will not be above demands for accountability from the Egyptian electorate. When Islamists fail in office, they will be threatened to be voted out. When they fail in a manner that a critical mass of citizens deems unacceptable, they will be protested against – and in large numbers. Further, it emphasizes the importance of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the people to future Islamist political contenders, which can be done through establishing, maintaining and abiding by the rule of law as well as through working with opposition parties across the political spectrum.

As we continue move forward with contested politics in Egypt, I suggest that we think beyond the pro- and anti-Islamist divide, and more carefully consider the complicated and nuanced issues defining Egyptian politics during the current difficult impasse.


Continue Reading

The Coup in Egypt

We welcome another guest post from Jeremy Pressman.


What happened in Egypt was a military coup. I understand why Egyptian and US officials are afraid of that word because a coup should mean a US aid cutoff (it won’t) and a coup sounds like a bad thing.  What should you do if you think an illiberal executive is trying to close off the possibility of genuine competition for power? Tricky.

But what happened clearly meets the definition of a coup.

That said, this is an unusual case because it was matched, really preceded by, a huge mass mobilization on the part of the Egyptian people. I am not sure what precedent we have for that (any ideas?), and I think those millions who mobilized have a right to think they drove the train and compelled the military to step in. In other words, the fact that it fits as a military coup does not preclude the perception from developing among the popular anti-Morsi movement – millions of people – that it was somehow different from your average military coup and the military’s role was secondary, a tool of the people.

In fact, I wonder if the military feared letting the crowds on their own bring down President Mohamed Morsi or boxing him in so he had to make major concessions. Because if the people could have mobilized and gotten the duly-elected President of Egypt to make major concessions, maybe—just maybe—they could start to box in the military and begin what would be a healthy transformation of Egypt’s civil-military relations. So, from the military’s perspective, perhaps better to jump into that Morsi-people dynamic and frame things as “the military was the decisive actor who brought about radical change.” (Well, radical change to preserve the status quo ante.)

Going forward, the crucial barometer is how the Muslim Brotherhood community, on the one hand, and the military and anti-Morsi factions, on the other hand, relate to each other. It is a major test of whether Egypt can create an inclusive, if heated, political arena. I’ll go so far as to say if that works out halfway okay, I am optimistic and if not, more serious political troubles lay ahead. (If you need a big dose of pessimism on Egypt, read this by Marc Lynch.) I agree with Ashraf Khalil: “Exactly how the Brotherhood will react to this maneuver now becomes the most crucial and immediate question facing Egypt.” And Nathan Brown offers some excellent possibilities for the lessons the Brotherhood might learn.

But it is not just what the Brotherhood does, it is also how the regime treats the Brotherhood. The relationship will be interactive and so what both sides do toward each other matters very much. My initial (slim) hope is that Egypt’s new government and the military will try to co-opt the Brotherhood and its supporters rather than silence or crush them.

That is easier said than done for two reasons. First, both sides are battling to define what just happened. The battle of the narratives, as Nugent and Jamal noted: “Military intervention in Egypt will be seen by supporters of the Morsi government as a coup, and by opponents as a restoration of political order.” For the government and military, it is tempting, probably too tempting, to clamp down on the Muslim Brotherhood so that it does not get a fair chance to define what happened. Egypt’s new government will have a much easier time defining the story of June 30 if the other side is not able to talk. Early reports indicate the regime has already blocked many MB news and information outlets.

Second, Morsi et al will say things and call for actions that are quite alarming to the government. As Shadi Hamid pointed out to me, can the military really take a hands-off approach with Morsi “if he’s going around calling on military officers to mutiny…”? Unlikely. It will be hard to ignore the guy(s) shouting fire in the crowded theater. As a result, arresting, scaring, and hurting Brotherhood leaders is an obvious option.

We traditionally, and rightfully, look at a coup as an event that undermines democracy. Is that traditional sentiment applicable here? In the coming months, we will learn whether this military intervention was any better conceived and thus effective at protecting minority rights, creating space for genuine and lasting political competition, and, more broadly, helping Egypt move forward.

Continue Reading

Egypt: What Comes Next?

The following is a guest post from Elizabeth Nugent, a PhD student in the department of politics at Princeton University who is currently in Cairo, Egypt conducting pre-dissertation research, and Princeton University political scientist Amaney Jamal, the author of Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World (Princeton University Press, 2007).


On June 30, Egypt witnessed historic protests calling for early elections and the end of Morsi’s rule one year after he took office. The protests were planned by Tamarud, a grass-roots campaign begun in May of this year by a group of young activists, which claimed that at least 17.5 million people participated, citing military sources. However, despite the impressive numbers unified against Morsi, there was no clearly articulated plan for what happened next, and amidst continued nationwide chaos and governmental shutdowns, the Egyptian military may be about to step in. On Monday, the army gave the Morsi government a final 48 hour deadline to reach an agreement with the opposition.  The statement reads as if the military has no interest in governing the country and is simply stepping in to restore some semblance of security and stability, in response to the will of the people. On June 30, the crowds of Egyptians amassed in the country’s main squares let up a cheer of support whenever the military’s Apache helicopters flew overhead and returned to the “the army and the people are one hand” chants. On Monday, Tahrir erupted in cheers as the military statement was announced. The Tamarud campaign and other leading opposition figures have also voiced support for military invention.

The question remains as to whether the Egyptian military can become a democratizing force. Traditionally, Arab militaries have not been known for their democratic tendencies. Political scientist Eva Bellin explained the persistence of authoritarianism in the Middle East through the early 2000s as the result of exceptionally muscular coercive apparatuses. Arab militaries, she argued, were willing and able to repress democratic initiatives in order to preserve repressive regimes. Variation in military willingness to repress or allow democratic initiatives hinged on whether the military’s interests were tied to those of the regime. Bellin offered a typology in which the more institutionalized – defined as being rule-bound and based on meritocratic principles, and with a clear separation between private and public realms as well as between the military and the regime in power – the military was, the more willing it was to refuse orders, disengage from power, and allow political reform to occur.

By all accounts, the Egyptian military’s (largely economic) interests are independent from the regime, qualifying it as a highly institutionalized entity. This should, in theory, allow it to behave as an autonomous actor. In addition, as the figure below demonstrates, the military is one of the most population political institutions in Egypt. 2011 Arab barometer data, collected during SCAF’s golden era in the months after Mubarak stepped side, tells us that 94.9 of those polled trusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF (including 81.1 who said they trusted SCAF to a “great extent”), and 95.1 trusted the Armed Forces more generally. This was in comparison to 54.2 who trusted the police and only 23.8 who trusted political parties.

Trust graph

Pew recently released a report with data collected in March 2013 in which 73 percent of those polled believed the Egyptian military was having a positive effect. 67 percent believed SCAF was having a positive influence, with political parties – the Freedom and Justice Party (52), National salvation Front (45), and the Nour Party (40) – trailing behind considerably.

Yet, the history of the military’s political behavior suggests that while it is autonomous and popular, it is not always a democratic actor. In January 2011, the military defected from the Mubarak regime amidst countrywide protests – yet, as Steven Cook has written, it was complicit in the persistence of the regime for the three previous decades. In July 2013, it will be defecting from – say what you will – a democratically elected government. The Egyptian people appear to have a short term memory: SCAF ruled for the 18 months prior to Morsi’s 2012 election, and is undoubtedly responsible for some of the economic and political failures being attributed solely to his administration as well as a slew of gross human rights violations.

The obvious comparisons in this case are Algeria and Turkey, with their elected Islamist governments and history of military intervention. However, in Algeria (1991), the military stepped in after the first round of elections, before the FIS was permitted to fully win the mandate of the people and form a government. A comparison with Turkey is also fraught with misunderstanding. Indeed, Turkish democracy has developed not because of military intervention, but rather because the country has institutionalized civilian control over the military through repeated instances of military intervention. Military intervention in Egypt will be seen by supporters of the Morsi government as a coup, and by opponents as a restoration of political order. Regardless of how it is seen, military decree appears to be a central feature of Egypt’s future political trajectory.

Continue Reading

The Rio Protests: Who, What, Why, and Will They Matter?

This is a guest post by Nicholas Barnes, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His dissertation project examines the governance practices of non-state armed actors in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He is currently in Rio carrying out fieldwork with the support of the Drugs, Security and Democracy Fellowship Program, the SSRC-International Dissertation Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.  A longer version of this post is here.


In recent weeks, millions of Brazilians have displayed their frustration and disillusionment with the political system through popular protest. But despite the fact that a majority of Brazilians support the protests, the movement remains fragmented and diffuse. The list of demands and grievances continue to grow and the sporadic violence which has taken place make understanding these protests and predicting their future trajectory extremely difficult. After nearly two weeks, I am left with more questions than answers.

Who are the protesters?

As David Samuels has already pointed out on this blog, the largest protests in the major urban centers have been dominated by an assortment of middle class, educated youth. However, these youth are not the only ones protesting. In the days following last Thursday’s massive outpouring, many smaller protests occurred across the country. Many marginalized populations have added their voices to the growing cacophony. These smaller protests are driven by more local and historical grievances. For instance, in many of Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral neighborhoods and favelas (shantytowns), protests were not organized by middle class youth but by local working class poor who understand better than any other segment of the population the effects of rising transportation costs, non-existent or low-quality schools and health services, and a repressive public security apparatus. Many of these communities have been organizing, advocating, and protesting for such change for decades with little to show for it. Only with the expansion of activism and mobilization to the middle classes in the last several weeks have Brazil’s political elites begun to pay attention. What remains unknown is if these groups are actually part of the same movement, advocating for the same reforms, and if they will be appeased by the same concessions.

What are the demands?

Although these protests began with the 20 cent rise in bus fares, they have come to encompass much more. Some of the most prominent grievances are the corruption of public officials and the poor quality of public services. Instead of improving infrastructure for the health and education systems and providing affordable public transportation, politicians are accused of misusing public funds for their own personal benefit and that of corporations. A prime example is the exorbitant spending on soccer stadiums and other World Cup preparations which have outpaced budgeted expectations. Many of the most violent protests have occurred around the newly constructed and renovated stadiums which are currently hosting the Confederations Cup, a surprising development for a country obsessed with soccer and the World Cup. For more on this, see Diego von Vacano’s previous post.

Looking more closely at any single issue area within the protest movement, the divisions are obvious. Regarding public transportation, the Free Fare Movement, which began the protests in São Paulo, is advocating for totally free public transportation in Brazilian cities. Other groups are demanding free rides just for students. Some are merely protesting for more affordable bus rates. On Monday, Dilma promised $22 billion to be invested in public transportation in Brazil’s biggest cities which will largely be spent by building more subways and improving infrastructure. Will this be enough to satisfy some of the protesters? It is difficult to know.

What kind of violence is occurring?

The role of violence in these protests cannot be overstated. The size and popularity of the protests themselves is partially a product of the violence which occurred at the first protests nearly two weeks ago. Videos and images of police brutality quickly spread through social media and emboldened a much larger set of protesters last week. Despite the fact that the vast majority of protesters continue to renounce violence, a very small portion of them have been able to provoke some of Brazil’s public security apparatus into violent action. Some individuals wish to engage in vandalism, looting and opportunistic violence for its own sake. There are also some radical protesters who may wish to provoke the government to overreact to further delegitimize the government and spread the protest movement. Both of these groups are present in protests around the country and, although in the extreme minority, have been able to derail otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

For their part, Brazil’s public security institutions have a long history of using violent and repressive tactics against civilians that can be traced back to the military dictatorship (1964-85). However, their responses to protests have varied significantly. Countless protests have concluded without any violence. On the other hand, in last Thursday’s mass protest in Rio de Janeiro with an estimated 300,000 participants, I witnessed the military police and BOPE (a special forces unit trained in urban warfare), send a very clear and heavy-handed message to protesters about public order. As more marginalized groups continue to engage in protests, the public security apparatus’ leeway in dealing with these groups will likely be even greater. For instance, a protest in Complexo da Maré, a large network of favelas in the north of Rio, eventually led to a violent invasion of the community by BOPE forces and a several-hour shootout with local gangs. Thirteen deaths have been officially confirmed. Local residents are outraged and immediately began more protests against such abusive and indiscriminate violence.

What will happen in the short-term?

Since mass protests began, public officials’ responses have been largely conciliatory. The 20 cent rise in bus fares were quickly revoked. A proposed amendment to the constitution which would make investigation of public corruption cases private information and take them out of the hands of the Interior Ministry was voted down. On Monday, President Dilma Rousseff chaired a meeting of all the governors and the mayors of the largest cities in which they agreed to certain reforms regarding public transportation, the health and education systems as well as political corruption. It remains to be seen how adamantly protesters refuse politics as usual and such concessions from public officials. It is likely that the disparate groups within the protest movement will respond differently. My guess is that many of the middle class youth will be quicker to accept concessions and massive protests like we witnessed last week will fade. However, better organized social movements and activist groups have been reinvigorated and have a much longer battle in mind.

What are the possible longer-term impacts?

Overall, these protests are clearly a positive development for democracy in Brazil. There is a real opportunity to change the political culture if a focus on improved public services and greater accountability and transparency from public officials are taken up as the primary demands of a broad spectrum of society. However, violent escalation and a tendency toward fragmentation and polarization at the party level could derail these opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, now that specific promises have been made, the majority of Brazilians that support political reform must hold these politicians and parties accountable in next year’s elections. Finally, the protest movement itself must find itself a leadership and a way to transition toward supporting candidates and parties if they are not to go the way of the Occupy Movement in the United States.

Continue Reading

Brazil is a Stable and Growing Democracy – And We’re Not Going to Take It Any More!!!

The following guest post is from University of Minnesota political scientist David Samuels, the author of  Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil (Cambridge University Press, 2003).


In recent weeks millions of Brazilians – urban youth, mainly – have taken to the streets across the country in protest. Why? Politicians, pundits and academics – this one included – continue to scratch their heads.

The protests began as an effort to stop a bus fare increase of US$0.10. A bus ride in São Paulo costs about US$1.50 – high, given per capita income, but an increase of a dime provides a puzzling spark for sustained nationwide street protests. Moreover, once the mayors of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other cities had rescinded the bus rate increases, the “Free Bus Fare” group claimed victory and announced that it would call no more protests. And yet the protests continued to grow and gain adherents.

Brazil’s protests echo those that have erupted in Cairo and Istanbul for example, where angry youth use social media to air grievances and coordinate broader protests. Still, disaffected youth glued to Facebook 24-7 are common to every country, while massive ongoing protests are not. And Brazil is different from Egypt, Turkey, and many other countries, richer or poorer – in that unemployment is low, the economy is (slowly) growing, and it is a stable democracy. The protests are not directed at incumbent president Dilma, who enjoys an approval rating over 50%, or her government.

If the movement is not merely about bus fares or the economy per se, it did gain momentum after police used excessive force to intimidate protesters. Brazil’s police are notorious for using such tactics against poorer and often darker-skinned favela-dwellers. Yet a survey firm discovered that São Paulo protesters are far more likely than average to have a college degree – which means they are also wealthier and lighter-skinned than average. Brazil’s wealthy and upper-middle classes have tacitly sanctioned repressive policing for decades, but witnessing or experiencing firsthand that the police do not care about protesters’ social class or race may have galvanized many, and brought the issue of poor police training and police response to expressions of free speech to the fore.

Still, episodes of police violence also cannot explain the protests’ spread, size and duration. Some suggest that the protests reflect generalized indignation with the country’s political class, but we can be a bit more specific. The protests may not be about economic performance per se, and may be surprising in their breadth and timing, but in my view they can be characterized as reflecting a growing disconnect between taxation and representation.

Brazil’s middle class has gained in terms of living standards over the past 20 years, but the poor and wealthy have gained more, in relative terms. The bus fare protest was just a symbol of broader complaints – as was the reaction to police brutality. As Brazilians move into or climb up the middle class, they inevitably pay more in taxes – yet they also inevitably grow increasingly aware that they do not get their money’s worth. One commonly hears Brazilians complain that they pay “1st world taxes” – about 36% of GDP – but receive “3rd world services” in return. The protests thus represent growing frustration that established political parties are unwilling to implement reforms on both sides of the fiscal coin – to improve public services (particularly healthcare, education, and public safety) and reduce corruption.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading