What Do the Post-Communist Transitions Imply for the Post-Arab Spring MENA?

Chapter 4
Ayfer Erdogan

Until the wave of uprisings that have ousted some long-entrenched autocrats in the MENA region in 2011, conceptual debates on the region revolved around the absence of democratization trend observed in other parts of the globe. The long history of robust authoritarianism in the Arab politics led most scholars of Arab politics to label this region as exceptionalism in terms of democratic change. Eventually, in 2011 the outbreak of mass protests culminated in the ouster of the autocrats once believed to be very strong and resilient. This unexpected tide of popular protests which spread from one country to another in the region was reminiscent of the revolutionary wave of 1989 that brought an end to the communist rule in Eastern Europe and beyond. Just like the set of revolts against the communist regimes in 1989, initially the Arab spring seemed to be a move in the direction of democracy as it reflected the populations’ demand for freedom and democratic rule. Seven years in retrospect, mass movements that sparked in the aspiration of democracy, justice and freedom resulted either in a new wave of authoritarian rule or protracted civil war. Tunisia, as an exception, is the only country that is successfully moving toward democracy. Rather than treating the whole region as one category, this paper attempts to analyze prospects and challenges for democratization by referring to the post-communist transition experiences. In this regard, exploiting democratization theory and comparing the Arab spring to the fall of communism, this paper aims to identify particular characteristics that seem to affect the political outcome of regime change in the so-called Arab World. A deeper analysis of the former transition experience in the post-communist world allows us to figure out the variations in the outcome of the political transition in the Middle East following the 2011 Arab uprisings.


democracy; autocracy; transition; fall of communism; Arab spring

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