Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Electoral Model without Elections? the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the Color Revolutions in Comparative Perspective

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Electoral Model without Elections? the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the Color Revolutions in Comparative Perspective

Article excerpt

On January 25, 2011, mass demonstrations began in Cairo and in Egypt's other major cities. Demonstrators gathered throughout the Egyptian capital, converging on and seizing control of public spaces. Most dramatically, Cairo's central Tahrir Square filled with unarmed protesters who improvised encampments and-generally using only whatever came to hand-faced off against riot police, snipers, teargas, rubber bullets, birdshot, and, most bizarrely, sword-wielding horsemen and camel riders. Eighteen days later, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from the presidency, allowing Egypt's military to oversee the transition to a new political order. This was the second time in a matter of weeks that an autocrat's decadeslong rule had been brought down by mass demonstrations in the region: shortly before the demonstrations in Egypt began, Tunisia had witnessed unprecedented mass mobilization that led to the unseating of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, an autocrat who had ruled the country for twenty-four years.

As similar demonstrations began to spread across Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Syria, it became difficult to resist analogies to other waves of protest that had brought down longtime autocrats, namely to the 1989 protests that led to the fall of Communist regimes and to the wave of "color revolutions" across eastern Europe and the Balkans from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s. Some of those who participated in the revolutions disagreed with the analogies, but other activist leaders were very frank that they had learned tactics from the previous waves. Comparisons were quickly made between Egypt and Ukraine and Serbia, primarily due to the similarities between the youth activists in both countries. In February 2011, journalist Tina Rosenberg claimed that Egyptian youth activists had in fact received training in nonviolent tactics, protest strategy, and organizational discipline from the same students who led the Serbian activist group Otpor, which had organized protests against Milošević (Rosenberg, 2011a). She further observed that Otpor activists, through the Serbian Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), also provided training to the Pora youth movement in Ukraine and to Kmara in Georgia, both of which were organizations that played mobilizing roles in those countries' revolutions. Indeed, in a later piece, Rosenberg contended that it was precisely this training that allowed the activists to convert loose networks into tight groups that afforded each other sufficient solidarity and encouragement to spark the uprising (Rosenberg, 2011b).

This argument has merit: links between the student activists in Otpor and Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement were real; the uprisings shared tactics; and some similarities (such as the protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square and the tent city in Kiev's central square during Ukraine's Orange Revolution) were highly visible. There was one obvious difference between the two uprisings, however: elections. There had, of course, been elections in Egypt prior to 2011 (along with Tunisia and the other Arab countries experiencing uprisings), but the 2011 mobilization did not coincide with them and the protest organizers had previously turned their backs on them. Furthermore, when the uprisings were followed by meaningful and competitive elections, the subsequent elected authorities themselves became targets of continued opposition mobilization-successfully so in Egypt, where large crowds were mobilized in support of the military's move to remove Mubarak's elected successor in July 2013.

Was this difference-the presence or absence of elections in the two uprisings-a critical one? In this chapter, we acknowledge that the similarities between the Arab and some non-Arab cases were more than superficial, especially with respect to mobilization and protest techniques. However, we argue that variation in the presence or absence of elections as the focal point of mass mobilization has an impact on the nature of regime change and, to an even greater degree, on post-uprising politics. …

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