Archive | Transitions

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.

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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.


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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.

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Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?

The following is the first in our series of collaborations with journals to feature guests posts from authors of recently published political science research in conjunction with ungated access to the article that is being discussed.

The guest post is written by political scientist Roland Paris, of the University of Ottawa (@rolandparis).  An ungated version of his article is being made available temporarily by Cambridge University Press here.


In the June 2013 issue of Perspectives on Politics, I have a review essay based on four books that offer insights into “what went wrong” with the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan after 2001.

The books, which are all excellent, approach the subject from different vantage points.  Astri Suhrke’s When More Is Less: The International Project in Afghanistan examines the internal tensions and contradictions of the overall international effort.  Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan focuses more narrowly on the US military and civilian “surge” in 2010 and 2011.  In Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town, Noah Coburn conducts a micro-level analysis of the politics in one village near Kabul during the international mission.  Finally, Thomas Barfield’s Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History is a macro-history of Afghan politics and governance from pre-modern times to the present.

In spite of their differences, all of the books point to similar, underlying dysfunctions in the international mission.  The first dysfunction was the interveners’ inadequate understanding and knowledge of Afghan society.  Again and again, the authors point to cases of international action rendered ineffectual or counterproductive due to a lack of familiarity with the political and social environment. From the highest levels of decision making to the micro-dynamics of military patrols and aid projects, foreign organizations and officials seemed to be almost handicapped by their own ignorance of the country.

The second dysfunction was the persistent short-termism of international policymaking.  At each major juncture, decision makers seemed to reach for the most expedient fixes without fully considering the context or consequences of their actions.  This pattern was already visible during the 2001 invasion, when the United States paid Afghan militias to intercept fleeing Al Qaeda fighters in the mountains of Tora Bora, rather than sending American forces—a costly decision, since the militias turned out to be less than fully committed to the task.  Then there was the Bush administration’s lack of interest in devising plans for Afghanistan’s post-Taliban transition, and its eagerness to delegate this task to others, based in part on the assumption that the “problem” of Afghanistan had been largely resolved by the defeat of the Taliban regime.  Next came the UN-sponsored conference at Bonn, which produced an agreement for a political transition process.  This agreement, however, was reached “hastily, by people who did not adequately represent all key constituencies in Afghanistan,” as Brahimi, who chaired the meeting, wrote in a contrite essay seven years later.  With US and UN backing, moreover, the Bonn plan yielded a highly centralized system of government that was ill-adapted to the country’s needs.  Meanwhile, Washington had rejected the idea of deploying ISAF outside Kabul and refused to allow US counterterrorist forces to be used for “nation-building” purposes.  All of these actions reflected wishful thinking— or, more precisely, a dearth of serious thinking—about the viability and long-term implications of these decisions.

This mind-set continued in subsequent years.  As conditions worsened and the scale and scope of the operation slowly expanded, there was little reflection on the underlying assumptions of the mission.  When the US government, long distracted by the situation in Iraq, shifted its attention back to Afghanistan in 2008, decision making became more urgent, but was no less short-sighted. “Again and again,” writes Suhrke, “it was hoped that the latest change in strategy and personnel or increase in aid would be the silver bullet.”  I saw this for myself during visits to Kandahar and Kabul in December 2008 and January 2010.  Activity was intense, almost frantic, and driven by a sense that little time remained to “turn the situation around.”  But exactly how this would be achieved, and to what end, were never clear.  Even after President Obama entered office and conducted a lengthy policy review that resulted in a sharp escalation of US forces, these questions remained largely unanswered:  How would the United States convince the insurgency to capitulate or negotiate?  How would it persuade Afghan villagers to side publicly with ISAF and the Kabul government?  What, in short, was the purpose of the surge?  More broadly, why did the international operation, with its minimalist start and late escalation, seem so strangely out of sync with conditions on the ground?

If “strategy” is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim, there appeared to be little strategy guiding the international operation in Afghanistan.  Instead, reliance on a series of quick fixes seemed to substitute for strategic thinking—or tactics without strategy.  I conclude the essay by discussing the dangers of repeating these errors and drawing the wrong lessons from the Afghanistan episode.

You can access the entire essay for free until June 23, 2013.

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Whither Nation Building? Lessons for Iraq, Syria, and Mali

The following guest post is provided by George Washington University political scientist Harris Mylonas, the author of the recently published  The Politics of Nation-Building  (Cambridge University Press, 2013).  The post originally appeared at e-IR.


In my book, The Politics of Nation-Building, I explore the reasons behind a state’s choice to assimilate, accommodate, or exclude ethnic groups within its territory.[1] I develop a theory that focuses on the international politics of nation-building arguing that a state’s nation-building policies toward non-core groups — any aggregation of individuals perceived as an unassimilated ethnic group by the ruling elite of a state — are influenced by both its foreign policy goals and its relations with the external patrons of these groups. Through a detailed study of the interwar Balkans, I conclude that the way a state treats a non-core group within its own borders is determined largely by whether the state’s foreign policy is revisionist or cleaves to the international status quo, and whether it is allied or in rivalry with that group’s external patrons. However, as I admit in the book, this argument does not travel to states where the ruling elites are not motivated by a homogenizing imperative.

Some places in the world are run by core groups consisting of apparent minimum winning coalitions,[2] others by elites that go at great lengths to establish national states.[3] Why do some countries have leaders that try to make the national and the political unit overlap and others that opt to rule with a minimum winning coalition? One argument suggests that maybe the degree of diversity prevents the nation-building path in some cases, other arguments focus on the pattern of spread of nationalist ideology and/or the prevalence of competing ideologies such as communism, yet others put forth the importance of war-making and imitation of successful military tactics as a mechanism that accounts for the spread of nationalism and the nation-state system.[4] In The Politics of Nation-Building I build on some of these and suggest that the main reason that leaders adopt the nation-building option is the reality, or anticipation, of other powers using non-core groups in their state to undermine their stability or even annex parts of their territory.

The European story is well known and so are the interactions between the Russians and the Europeans. Tilly’s argument that war made the modern national state may be correct but it is also based on an understood reality: borders were constantly changing during the centuries that modern European states developed.[5] But the Westphalian principles have been adhered to more in some parts of the world than others.[6] Border fixity did not only vary tremendously over time but it also significantly varied crossnationally across the globe.[7] For example, following the Treaty of Berlin in the end of the 19th century the borders of Africa “froze” after the decision of the Great Powers.[8] This led to a completely different incentive structure for both ruling elites and counterhegemonic elites in countries with “fixed borders”. Beyond the case of Africa, however, we can point to other places with similar levels of border fixity that resulted from different geopolitical configurations, such as Latin America—the back yard of the USA—or the Middle East, where the colonial powers also left their mark on the demarcation of borderlines.[9]

Overall, areas that were part of a geopolitical configuration that guaranteed border fixity had less of an incentive to pursue nation-building policies. Within these cases the only countries that I would expect to see nation-building policies emerging involve cases where an external power (major power, regional power, neighboring state, diaspora group and so forth) attempted to cultivate a fifth column within their territorial boundaries. Moreover, it would not be surprising if this phenomenon of external backing of non-core groups would be less pronounced in regions where border fixity was perceived to be really high. However, this ‘equilibrium’ becomes more or less sustainable based on the structure of the international system and the ability—real and/or perceived—of regional actors to defy these geopolitical configurations I described above.

The crucial question today is: What is the future of border fixity in today’s world? More importantly, what is the perception of the relevant actors across the world with respect to this question? The list of border changes is longer than we want to admit. One just needs to cite former Yugoslavia and USSR;[10] but more recently we find cases beyond the traditional spaces where nation-building has already made its mark like Sudan.[11]Discussion of border changes has also emerged in the case of Iraq, Mali, and even Syria. It remains to be seen if any such plans will materialize. Granted the list of cases could have been much longer if nationalist principles were to be fully operative but this is not a satisfactory answer. Even if we only get a few dozen of the hundreds of border changes we would get based on nationalist principles, the reverberations will be felt globally. Moreover, such a situation would further push the spread of nationalism, encourage external involvement, and boost nation-building projects across these areas. We are already observing manifestations of this dynamic, but more border changes would certainly intensify it. This in turn will have the direst consequences for the well being of ethnic groups that are perceived as having ties with external powers that are perceived as enemies by core elites. Shi’as in various Sunni dominated states in the Middle East are a case in point.

What can be done? The International community can impact perceptions of border fixity by either investing resources in upholding the norm of territorial sovereignty or by promoting regional integration schemes around the globe that would indirectly guarantee existing borders and, according to The Politics of Nation-Building, would also lead to accommodationist policies. However, neither of the two solutions is sufficient without important investments in economic and political development.

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Social Networks and Democracy

The following guest post is from political scientists Ora John Reuter and David Szakonyi


Foreign policy pundits have been bullish about the ability of social media to bring democratic change in authoritarian regimes. Observers have argued that social media can literally “make history” by helping topple regimes, and democracy promoters are sinking big money into a variety of trainings with this very goal.   But in countries such as China, Russia, and Iran, where users of local social networks still far outnumber users of Facebook and Twitter, authoritarian governments have used their leverage over domestic networks to contain online opposition to the regime.

The story of Russia’s most popular social networking platform, VKontakte, illustrates this point well.  In March 2013, reports (ru) surfaced about how VKontakte collaborates with Kremlin officials to gather intelligence on opposition groups that use the site.  The most damning of the reports claimed that the site shut down opposition “groups” and misdirected message traffic between opposition figures.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the December 2011 parliamentary elections, when allegations of massive electoral fraud brought tens of thousands of Russians onto the streets in the largest anti-regime protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, the relationship between VKontakte and the Kremlin even became coercive. Four days after the election, the company’s founder Pavel Durov reported that he had been summoned by the FSB (Russia’s internal security service) to answer questions about opposition activity on Vkontakte. Durov’s hesitation to cooperate fully appears to have landed him in hot water, as investors with ties to the Kremlin recently purchased a 48% share in Vkontakte and Durov may have fled the country after his home was searched in connection with an alleged traffic violation.

In our research on social media, we have found that the ownership structure of social media matters greatly for politics. When nondemocratic governments have leverage over the content and structure of social networks, users lose the ability to access independent points of view and learn about government malfeasance. Not only is information sharing monitored and potentially blocked, but democracy activists avoid networks connected with government authorities for fear of reprisals.

Though scholars have long warned about the attempts of authoritarian leaders to influence the internet, little empirical evidence has been brought forth about the effects of these efforts on politics at the micro-level. In a forthcoming article, we used survey data from the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia to examine how usage of different social networks affected users’ awareness of electoral fraud. Our results indicate that users of Western networks like Facebook and Twitter are about five percentage points more likely to believe that there was significant electoral fraud during the elections.  Usage of Russian networks, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, meanwhile had no effect on awareness of electoral fraud.

We argue that the reason for this discrepancy lies in the type of information being spread on these networks. During the election season, local networks’ vulnerability to state pressure seems to have led many opposition activists to focus their social media strategy on Western social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, which are much harder to monitor and pressure.   Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most popular political blogger, maintained an active public Facebook page and Twitter account, which he used to spread hundreds of YouTube videos, photographs, and anecdotes documenting electoral fraud, and yet Navalny maintained only a token presence on Vkontakte and no presence on Odnoklassniki.  This strategy is at odds with the goal of reaching a mass audience since Odnoklassniki and VKontakte each have five times as many users as Facebook (only 5% of Russian internet users are on Facebook).

Caption: Figure 1 shows the week on week change in activity on social networking sites in the weeks surrounding the elections.  There were large spikes in activity on Facebook and Twitter, but no such spikes in VKontakte and Odnoklassniki usage.

Of course, it’s possible that individuals with preformed opinions about electoral violations select into usage of Facebook and Twitter and eschew usage of native social media platforms. Its hard to dismiss this possibility, but our findings do indicate that Facebook/Twitter users are remarkably similar to VKontakte users across a range of factors that might be correlated with perceptions of electoral fraud (sex, income, education, place of residence, support for Putin, levels of political participation, and support for the opposition).

Our presumption was also that Facebook and Twitter usage would also increase levels of protest participation, as the emerging narrative suggests.  This should certainly be true if the self-selection process described above was at work (users with preconceived notions about rampant fraud should be especially likely to join protests against electoral fraud).   But surprisingly, we found no relationship between usage of Facebook/Twitter and participation in post-election protests.

Thus, users of Western social networks were not more politically active than either their counterparts on Russian social networks or even non-users of social networks. Yet they were more informed about the wrongdoings of the government.

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The Limits of the Indonesian Model

The following is a guest post from Tom Pepinsky.  He is Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University, and blogs on political economy, methods, Southeast Asia, and food at Indolaysia. It is cross-posted at Foreign Policy.


Many analysts of the Arab Spring have observed that the recent democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia echo what happened in Indonesia, another Muslim-majority country, in the late 1990s. These observers cite Indonesia’s transition as a model or template for the countries of the Arab Spring. But the similarities between the three countries are deceptive.

Beginning with Suharto’s resignation in May 1998 and ending with multiparty parliamentary elections held in June 1999, Indonesia—like Egypt and Tunisia—witnessed the dismantling of many of the institutional and political legacies of decades of authoritarian rule. As in Egypt and Tunisia, Indonesia’s authoritarian New Order had also previously clamped down on Islamist opposition groups. When the New Order collapsed, Indonesia’s Islamists were among the first to articulate a new vision for what Indonesian politics should become. Yet Indonesian Islamists have failed to capture either the mobilizational energy or the electoral following that Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood have enjoyed overwhelmingly in North Africa. Whereas the first democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia brought Islamists to office, Indonesia has had three democratic elections since 1999, and Islamists have failed to make an electoral breakthrough in any of them.

The different trajectories of political Islam in post-authoritarian Indonesia, Egypt, and Tunisia show why there can’t be an “Indonesian model” of democratic transitions in Muslim-majority countries. To be sure, new Muslim democracies in Egypt and Tunisia face similar challenges as Indonesia did when it emerged from authoritarianism. These include histories of rigged elections and managed oppositions, delicate relations with Western allies, large and visible non-Muslim minority populations (in Egypt), weak rule of law coupled with large and inefficient state bureaucracies, activist militaries with histories of political action, and many others.

But one major difference between Indonesia and its North African counterparts exists. Whatever the excesses of the brutal and corrupt New Order regime, Suharto presided over remarkable increases in the material well-being of the Indonesian people. By contrast, Ben Ali and Mubarak oversaw developmental debacles in Tunisia and Egypt: economic stagnation, ineffective development policymaking, and state decay. In such environments, Islamists thrive because their ideas resonate with a natural constituency of disenfranchised, disempowered, and frustrated citizens who expect more from their governments.

This is not a new argument. Three decades ago, Philip Khoury identified the “crisis of the secular state” as the root cause of what he termed “Islamic revivalism” in the Arab Middle East. The crisis of the secular state was fundamentally about the inability of nationalist and socialist governments in places like Egypt and Tunisia to deliver the development, material prosperity, and economic performance which they, as modernizing states, had implicitly promised their citizens. Islamic revivalism was a spiritual, social, and eventually political response to “state exhaustion.” Islamist political thought contained both an explanation for the failure of secular development models (for they ignored or even betrayed classical religious principles) and a template for future political action. In various ways, Islamists around the world today use this vision for Islam as a political tool to promise a better life.

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The House that Chavez Built

The following is a guest post from political scientist  Jennifer Cyr of the University of Arizona on the implications of the death of Hugo Chavez.  We join her in thanking the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) and its major supporters (the United States Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Program, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Vanderbilt University) for making the survey data available.


It happened. After years of illness, months of speculation, and weeks without a clearly and constitutionally defined leader, Hugo Chávez died, rather suddenly, on a Tuesday afternoon in Caracas, Venezuela. Chávez would have served as president of the country for twenty years. As it stands he had fourteen years to revolutionize his country, changing Venezuela’s constitution, its institutions, and even its name. Given his importance for the country, it may be appealing to treat his death as a shock to the country’s system – a critical juncture after which seemingly minor decisions may impact the country’s trajectory for years to come. Rather than give in to this temptation, I believe that what awaits Venezuela is much of the same.

The changes instituted with the adoption of Chávez’s 1999 Constitution are, for the most part, well-known. He eliminated the upper house of Congress and changed the electoral rules to strongly favor his (currently predominant) party through the combined effects of malapportionment and a first-past-the-post system. He replaced most of the judiciary with “friendly” judges, and he endowed the national executive with the capacity to reduce the powers of subnational (i.e. state and municipal) authorities. The state bureaucracy has been filled with his supporters, and the country’s oil industry has been purged of any pre-Chávez technocrats. Chávez’s footprint is large and deep when it comes to the country’s institutional framework.

His social impact has been just as impressive. While in office, Chávez instituted a vast array of social programs – executive-led misiones bolivarianas – that have sought to promote, to various degrees, improvements in education, health, nutrition, and even culture and security. Incredibly popular but also incredibly costly, these programs will not easily be undone. Even Chávez’s main competitor in the 2012 presidential election, Henrique Capriles Radonski, promised to maintain the missions. (He also vowed to improve them by making them more democratic and transparent.)

Internationally, Chávez sought to change the balance of power in the region. He used revenues from the country’s vast oil reserves to provide billions of dollars in assistance and subsidies to his allies in the region, including in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. He regularly spoke out on the international stage against the “empire” to the North, working to build an alliance of regional partners that could counterbalance the long shadow of the United States. Chávez’s foreign policy had both material and symbolic effects. Because of this, his departure will undoubtedly represent a major blow for the more radical left in Latin America. Many governments, especially in Cuba and in parts of the Caribbean, had come to rely heavily on his large investments in energy and infrastructure. Still, the symbolic importance of his promotion of an alternative vision for hemispheric relations cannot be overstated. His candor and decidedly undiplomatic stance vis-à-vis the United States resonated with many people, both within and outside of Venezuela.

Indeed, Chávez was successful at giving voice to many of those who felt excluded in Venezuela’s former (pre-1998) political system. He appealed directly to the poor, emphasizing a message of social justice. He combined his populism with social policies that actually retained (or at least did not reverse) positive trends in illiteracy and poverty reduction. Many Venezuelans today assert that they have easier and better access to health care and education. During the months I spent in Venezuela, I spoke with citizens who were passionately for but also passionately against Chávez. Many on both sides recognized his role in extending important social programs to the poor.

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The Promethean Dilemma in Third-Party Nation-Building

The following is a guest post by political scientist Keith Darden (Yale University) and Harris Mylonas (George Washington University). Please note that the symposium in Ethnopolitics that they refer to in their article has generously been ungated and made available to all for free for a limited time in conjunction with this post.


The killing of the US Ambassador last week in Benghazi and the recent wave of attacks on NATO personnel by uniformed Afghan police and military highlight the perils of international efforts to build states and societies on foreign soil. Why is it that the people we arm and assist keep on turning those weapons against us?

The New York Times, CBSnews, Washington Post, all reported on Sept 17, 2012 that the number of NATO personnel killed in Afghanistan by uniformed Afghan military and police is already at 51 this year, up from a total of 35 for all of last year.  Approximately one in six of the NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year were killed by our local allies and trainees. And this only counts those who killed while in uniform. The attrition and desertion rate from the Afghan National Army and police forces is exceptionally high and many have joined the ranks of the Taliban.  If we consider the number of allied personnel killed by soldiers and police who have been armed and trained by coalition forces, the number is certainly much higher.

The US has wisely put the training of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) on hold for a month until it can improve procedures for vetting its recruits, but the problem runs much deeper.

In a symposium published recently in Ethnopolitics we debated the merits of international state-building efforts.  Our main lesson: There is more to state-building than simply expanding the ranks of the army and police.  Expanding the army and police may be state-building, but it might just as easily be insurgency-building if it is not preceded by systematic efforts to build loyalty and to carefully select recruits. If you are unsure of the loyalties of the recruits who you are training, it’s best not to train them at all.

Here is the link to our piece, which was followed by some responses (Erin Jenne, Fotini Christia, Gordon Bardos, David Siroky & Yoav Gortzak) and our reply to their thoughtful comments.

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Conceding and Thriving: Strong-State Democratization in Asia

Continuing our on going partnership with the Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association newsletter, we will present two articles from the current issue in the Monkey Cage today and tomorrow. The first is by political scientists Dan Slater of the University of Chicago and Joseph Wong of the University of Toronto: 

It is widely argued that ruling parties help sustain authoritarian regimes. One of the most influential arguments for why this is the case centers on party cadres’ will to power. “The preferences of party cadres are much simpler than those of [military] officers,” Geddes persuasively argues. “Like democratic politicians, they simply want to hold office.”[1] Beyond having institutional capabilities that militaries lack, authoritarian ruling parties typically have stronger inherent incentives than their military counterparts to cling to power.

Yet there is an additional fundamental difference between ruling parties and militaries that has not been adequately explored, and which holds important implications for the likelihood of democratization in party-led regimes. For ruling militaries, democratization and withdrawal from office are one and the same. Yet unlike ruling militaries, ruling parties can democratize without losing power. For authoritarian parties, democratization entails the substantial concession and risk to hold free and fair elections, but not necessarily to lose those elections and withdraw from office. What Przeworski memorably called the “institutionalized uncertainty”[2] of democracy may mean eschewing certain victory, but it does not mean accepting certain defeat. Ruling parties can maintain power – and have maintained power – without maintaining authoritarian rule. Democratization may thus be more incentive-compatible for authoritarian parties than the conventional wisdom suggests.

This essay builds upon this theoretical corrective with a preliminary exploration of the following empirical paradox: some of the strongest authoritarian parties in the world have not resisted democratization, but have embraced it. Even more strikingly, such concessions of democracy have occurred in regimes that commanded exceptionally strong state apparatuses that were tightly fused with powerful ruling parties, providing these regimes with ample “incumbent capacity”[3] to resist democratization if they had so chosen. Yet they did not so choose, and history has shown that they chose wisely. In Taiwan, South Korea (hereafter Korea), and Indonesia, for example, dominant ruling parties conceded democracy without conceding power, and indeed with the confident expectation that they would not lose power. Rather than conceding and withdrawing, ruling parties in these Asian developmental states conceded and thrived.

But why, when, and how does such a “conceding-to-thrive” scenario come to pass? We contend that dominant parties can be incentivized to concede democratization from a position of exceptional strength and not only from a position of exceptional weakness. Paradoxically, the very strength that helps dominant parties sustain authoritarianism can also help motivate them to end it. Untangling this paradox of “strong-state democratization”[4] requires that attention be paid, first and foremost, to the historical sources of strength that make this strategy viable for some party leaders and not for others. It also demands sensitivity to the proximate conditions that make a conceding-to-thrive logic more likely in some settings than in others.

Our working causal argument is conjunctural and historical, and unfolds in three steps. First, ruling parties are only likely to embark on such a risky democratization path when they possess substantial antecedent resources and marked relative strength vis-à-vis the opposition, such that they confidently expect to win fully democratic elections. Second, and in some tension to the first point, ruling parties must nonetheless receive a strong and clear signal that they are passing their apex of power and legitimacy. This signal can take the form of an economic, electoral, contentious, or geopolitical shock, or some combination thereof. Third, ruling parties must be commanded by leaders who strategically calculate that pursuing democratic reform promises to give themselves and/or their parties a more enduring means of maintaining power. In short, conceding-to-thrive scenarios require a confluence of particular strengths, signals, and strategies.

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