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Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East: From Durability to Revolution
Working Paper

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CDDRL Working Paper

February 2011

What accounts for variation in the durability of authoritarian regimes in the post-colonial Middle East?  This working paper presents a new explanation that underscores how the geopolitical environment mediated outcomes of domestic conflicts pitting early rulers against social opposition. Comparative analysis of six historical cases (Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Bahrain, Tunisia, Kuwait) reveal that at the post-colonial dawn, foreign patrons empowered and constrained autocratic elites facing social opposition in distinctive ways, leaving pervasive legacies over consequent state-building efforts.  The more that incumbents enjoyed exogenous assistance to crush early societal challengers, the less likely they would thereafter rally broad bases of mass support in the succeeding decades; conversely, when leaders were forced to confront their own weakness and bargain with contentious popular sectors, they had stronger incentives to reach out and mobilize cross-class coalitions as they consolidated power.  Such differing early coalitional commitments engendered divergent kinds of economic and political institutions linking state and society over time, which in turn explains the scope and intensity of opposition decades after these regimes' contentious origins.

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