The protests that began in Tunisia in December 2010, and quickly spread across the Arab world, have drawn significant attention to the impact of militaries and coercive institutions on protests and revolutionary movements. The actions of the militaries were a central determinant of the outcomes of the uprisings of 2010–2011. In Tunisia and Egypt the decision by military leaders to abstain from using force on mass protests to suppress them led to the downfall of the countries’ autocrats. In Syria and Bahrain, militaries defended political leaders with brutal force. In Yemen and Libya, militaries fractured, with some units remaining allied to the leader and using force on his behalf and others defecting. In still other states, leaders and militaries were able to forestall the emergence of large, regime-threatening protests. To explain these divergent outcomes, scholars and analysts have looked to a variety of explanatory factors. These focus on the attributes of the militaries involved, their civil-military relations, the size and social composition of the protests, the nature of the regime’s institutions, and the impact of monarchical traditions. These explanations offer many useful insights, but several issues remain under-studied. These include the impact of authoritarian learning and diffusion on protest trajectory. They also include the endogeneity of the protests to the nature of a country’s civil-military relations (i.e., how preexisting patterns of civil-military relations affected the possibility that incipient demonstrations would escalate to mass protests). Scholars also have been understandably captivated by the aforementioned pattern of military defection-loyalty, focusing on explaining that observed difference at the expense of studying other dependent variables. The next generation of scholarship on the uprisings therefore would benefit from efforts to conceptualize and investigate different aspects of variation in military behavior. Overall, the first-generation literature has proved enormously useful and laid the foundation for a much richer understanding of military behavior and reactions to popular uprisings in the Arab world and beyond.
Risa A. Brooks
After decades-long neglect, a growing body of scholarship is studying religious components of protests. Religion’s role as a facilitator, the religious perspective of protesters, the goals of religious actors as participants, and faith-based outcomes of protests have been examined using quantitative and qualitative methodology. Although it is now a thriving research field, due to recent contributions, incorporating faith-based variables in protest research is a challenging task since religion travels across different levels of analysis; effortlessly merges with thick concepts such as individual and collective identity; and takes different shapes and color when it surfaces in various social contexts across the globe. Therefore, at the religion and protest nexus, there are more questions than answers. Research in the field would improve by investing more on theoretical frameworks and expanding the availability of qualitative and quantitative data.
Coup-proofing—that is, measures aimed at preventing military coups and ensuring military loyalty—has been a key feature of civil–military relations in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states. Just as the MENA region has been one of the most coup-prone regions in the world, coup-proofing has been an essential instrument of regime survival in Arab countries. The most commonly found coup-proofing strategies in the region include (a) so-called “communal coup-proofing,” involving the appointment of individuals to key positions within the military based on family, ethnic, or religious ties; (b) providing the military with corporate and/or private benefits in order to ensure its loyalty; (c) creating parallel military forces in addition to the regular military, so as to “counter-balance” the latter; (d) monitoring of the military through a vast internal security and intelligence apparatus; and (e) promoting professionalism, and thus political neutrality, within the military. The experiences of the “Arab Spring,” however, have shown that not all of these strategies are equally effective in ensuring military loyalty during times of popular upheavals and regime crises. A common finding in this context has been that communal coup-proofing (or militaries based on “patrimonialism”) creates the strongest bonds been the armed forces and their regimes, as evidenced by the forceful suppression of the popular uprising by the military in countries such as Syria, or by parts of the military in Libya and Yemen. By contrast, where coup-proofing has been based on the provision of material benefits to the military or on counterbalancing, as in Tunisia or Egypt, the armed forces have refrained from suppressing the popular uprising, ultimately leading to the downfall of these countries’ long-standing leaders. A further lesson that can be drawn from the Arab Spring in terms of coup-proofing is that students of both military coups and coup-proofing should dedicate (much) more attention to the increasingly important role played by the internal security apparatus in MENA countries.
Karen A. Rasler
There is an argument that nonviolent civil resistance or protest campaigns should be studied as dynamic and complex phenomenon, rather than a single case comprised of various attributes, such as size, scale, and scope, which are then compared with other cases. As protest campaigns have increased all over the world during the last few years, international relations scholars have begun to devote more time and resources to studying them systematically with new data projects and analytical tools and methods. In light of this emerging research program, one needs to understand that protest campaigns contain large-scale processes of political contention that evolve across time and space. Such evolutionary processes are the result of the interactive relationships among multiple governmental and nongovernmental actors. These interactions reflect “highly interdependent sets of actions and reactions” that generate causal mechanisms and intersect with other large-scale processes which can produce similar and dissimilar outcomes across different political contexts. An argument will be advanced that a “relational mechanisms-process” approach articulated by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly provides analytical leverage over such complexity. Most, international relations scholars, unlike social movement scholars, are not familiar with this approach. So, the effort herein is to not only make the case for a relational mechanisms-process approach but also to illustrate it with a partial analysis of the Egyptian uprising on January 25, 2011, which led to Mubarak’s resignation. The end result is a call for theoretical and empirical research that bridges two communities of scholars, one that is dominated by sociologists (social movement scholars) and the other that is dominated by political science (international relations political violence scholars).