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Revolution in Democracies: The 2019 Uprisings in Lebanon and Iraq
Abstract by Killian Clarke
Coauthors: Chantal Berman
On Session IX-16  (Frontiers in the Studies of Middle East Contentious Politics)

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

Scholarship on revolution all but presupposes a consolidated authoritarian regime as the target of popular mobilization. Yet the last two decades have seen a rising number of revolutionary uprisings target more plural regimes, including weak democracies and competitive autocracies. In the fall of 2019, citizens of Iraq and Lebanon took to the streets, using the language of thawra (revolution) to demand wholesale replacement of corrupt elite political classes, alongside other social justice and rights-oriented goals. Both uprisings faced significant violence from state-affiliated forces, and both movements gained limited concessions in the form of governmental resignations. Yet neither succeeded in bringing down or fundamentally transforming the regimes they targeted. How do dynamics of revolutionary mobilization and state response differ in weak democracies versus consolidated autocracies? We address this question using two original, locally-sourced protest event catalogs from Lebanon (n = 3,295) and Iraq (n = 2,641). We argue that the fragmentation of power in weak democracies paradoxically renders them more resilient to mass mobilization than their brittle, authoritarian peers. First, the lack of a single point of authority in the form of a personalist dictator makes it difficult for revolutionary movements to formulate demands that can hold together broad and diverse coalitions. Second, the decentralized nature of these regimes allows them to make concessions – such as the resignation of a Prime Minister – that do not ultimately disrupt power structures or herald a regime transition. Third, because these regimes are based on collusion between various political actors, many of whom have their own militias or coercive organs, they have more options for repressing protesters. These include not only state actors like the police and military, but also these non-state militias and thugs, who are less likely to defect or disobey orders.
Political Science
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