Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Analyzing Authoritarianism in an Age of Uprisings

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Analyzing Authoritarianism in an Age of Uprisings

Article excerpt

ANALYZING AUTHORITARIANISM IN AN AGE OF UPRISINGS Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria Joshua Stacher Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012 (xiv + 211 pages, bibliography, figures) $24.95 (paper)

Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resistance Bassam Haddad Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012 (xi x + 255, bibliography, index, figures) $24.95 (paper)

Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the US-Egyptian Alliance Jason Brownlee Cambridge: Cambridge Universit y Press, 2012 (xv + 279, bibliography, index, map) $29.99 (paper)

As Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Libyans, Bahrainis, Syrians, and other Arabs began to think the unthinkable and do the audacious, they chal- lenged not only the oligarchies that governed them, but also the US-based scholars who studied them. To significant portions of the academy working on Arab politics and society over the past decade and a half, the possibility that revolutions would occur in the Arab world was exceedingly remote.1 Political scientists and sociologists spent much of that period pondering the robustness of authoritarianism, (post-)Islamism, and US regional hegemony. It will not be surprising if the coming generation of scholars attacks their intellectual predecessors and interprets these political ruptures as inevitable, even if the uprisings do not fully transform Middle Eastern governments or societies. I expect that social scientists will develop elaborate, parsimo- nious, and sometimes insightful arguments explaining these revolutionary moments after the fact. The plethora of conferences, grant applications, and blog posts on the Arab uprisings are surely dress rehearsals for these pursuits.

In the meantime, at this particular juncture we are offered a set of works that were imagined and researched prior to 2011 and have reached publication in the immediate wake of the Arab uprisings. Joshua Stacher, Bassam Haddad, and Jason Brownlee, three prolific political scientists, give us books published in 2012 that represent arguments that at once are critically informed by the body of scholarship on authoritarian durability and regime change and also reckon with the ongoing processes of revolu- tionary uprising. These scholars are too knowledgeable and judicious to make definitive statements about what may transpire in the future. Instead, their research conducted in the noughts is used to contemplate the paths taken and foreclosed by historical legacies, vested interests, and institutional configurations.

Distancing themselves from earlier works that focused on political culture, religious doctrine, or stages of political development as the causes of authoritarianism,2 and avoiding the teleological assumption that the polities under study have been liberalizing and democratizing, these three authors operate within the current mode of considering these regimes for what they are (authoritarian) rather than what they are not (democratic).3 All consider the pillars of authoritarian reproduction to be erected and buttressed by a combination of strategic decisions, institutional forms, and direct confrontations with regular, although until recently fractured, citizen mobilization and claim-making.

The following review does not do justice to the richness of the individual monographs, each of which deserves to be read by students of Middle East politics as well as researchers interested in authoritarianism and compara- tive politics more generally. Rather than discussing the many intricacies of each study's empirical narrative and analytical arguments, this essay will explore how as a collection these books map the terrain of the current literature on authoritarianism and the inroads they make in interpreting these complex polities. Equally important, however, these works leave an intellectual frontier under-explored and conceptually impoverished. Namely, by adopting a highly elite-oriented understanding of "political regimes," the critical vector of regime power-the patterning and regulation of social relationships-is excluded at the expense of our understanding of the political as well as a wider set of questions about the social dynamics that enable and curb authoritarian reproduction. …

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