Protest, Social Policy, and Political Regimes in the Middle East

Dissertation / book project in progress

Where party systems and welfare institutions are weak or co-opted, protest movements become a primary means by which citizens make distributive demands on the state. This project examines determinants of state concessions to socioeconomic protest movements in late-developing states, asking in particular how revolutions and regime transitions transform the logic of elite response to mobilization.

I argue that "failed" revolutions -- such as Morocco's experience during the 2011 Arab Uprisings -- amplify the threat perceptions of surviving elites vis-a-vis protest, lowering the threshold of mobilization at which elites will grant concessions. Surviving elites use broad-based concessions to demobilize mass opposition while avoiding political reforms. In cases of successful revolution -- such as Tunisia -- elites no longer uniformly aim to demobilize protest movements in service of regime longevity. Imperatives of coalition-building in a new democracy prompt elites to undermine opponents' attempts at social negotiation and to channel exclusive concessions to smaller, well-organized protest groups who may lend political support. Thus, while democratization may amplify mobilization by a number of measures, concessions to protest are few and insignificant. 

I illustrate these arguments through comparative case studies of mobilization and state response surrounding the Tunisian and Moroccan phosphate mining industries -- the largest mineral export sector in both countries. I use interviews with activists and policymakers collected during 15 months of fieldwork in mining towns and capital cities. I then test quantitative implications using original protest event datasets sourced from local Arabic-language newspapers (n ~ 12,000). Conditional on protest levels, I show that failed revolutions raise the likelihood of concessions to protest movements, while successful revolutions lower the likelihood of concessions.  

Through structured, focused comparison of Tunisia and Morocco, this project contributes novel theoretical and empirical perspective towards a global question: why contemporary transitions in late-developing states may fall short of redressing popular claims for economic opportunity and social protection. 

Funding sources: National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, American Institute for Maghreb Studies

Dissertation committee: Amaney Jamal (chair), Mark Beissinger, Atul Kohli

Sample chapters: Due to ongoing research clearance applications, I do not post sample chapters online. I am happy to share sample chapters with academic colleagues. Please email me at chantalb[at]princeton.edu.

 Effects of successful and failed revolutions on social concessions to protest movements.

Effects of successful and failed revolutions on social concessions to protest movements.

 Main road awaiting repairs in Moulares, Tunisia. Photo by the author, December 2016.

Main road awaiting repairs in Moulares, Tunisia. Photo by the author, December 2016.

 Event data shows regional variation in protest activity, 2006 - 2016.

Event data shows regional variation in protest activity, 2006 - 2016.

 Park under construction in Khouribga, Morocco. Photo by the author, March 2017.

Park under construction in Khouribga, Morocco. Photo by the author, March 2017.