All protest campaigns move through cycles of escalation and de-escalation and ultimately demobilize. Some campaigns demobilize quickly as protesters reach their goals. The 2011 Egyptian uprising, when protesters left the streets after they brought down the Mubarak regime, for example, is a case of rapid demobilization. Others, like the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, demobilize over a longer time span before protests come to a complete halt. In Bahrain, the government first cracked down on the opposition by bringing in foreign troops and then continued to repress protesters until the protesters ended the campaign in 2012. Regardless of the length of time it takes for protesters to leave the streets and stop the protests, demobilization is a complex process. Numerous factors, such as severe repression, government concessions, countermobilization of opposition groups, leadership changes, or even unexpected events, can all bring about demobilization. These factors and strategies may occur simultaneously or sequentially, but usually one or a combination of them lead to the demobilization of a protest campaign. Moreover, demobilization is a dynamic process, as it continues to evolve out of the endogenous interactions among governments, challengers, bystanders, and, in some cases, as in Bahrain, external third-party actors.
Even though every protest campaign eventually demobilizes one way or another, the demobilization phase has generally attracted less scholarly attention than the onset and escalation of violent and nonviolent forms of collective action. For a long time, most scholars addressed demobilization indirectly within the context of the repression-dissent nexus as they explored why repression backfires and escalates dissent in some cases, while it succeeds in demobilizing the opposition in others. Nonetheless, factors besides state repression contribute to the demobilization of dissent. In other words, a state’s accommodative tactics, as well as individual, organizational, or even regional and systemic factors that interact with the state’s actions, have the potential to shape when and how political dissent demobilizes. More recently, scholars have begun to examine why and how protest campaigns demobilize by stepping out of the repression-dissent nexus and focusing on a variety of other factors related to organizational structures, regime types, individual-level constraints, and contingent events that affect the trajectory of campaigns. At the same time, recent studies on state repression have also begun to focus more heavily on the different causal mechanisms that explain how a state’s repressive tactics can lead to demobilization. While this new line of research has made significant contributions to our understanding of the demobilization of protests, we are still left with important questions about the demobilization process that have yet to be answered.