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Confronting the Square: Explaining Authoritarian Control Strategies During Civilian Uprisings


This dissertation seeks to explain how and why regimes adopt different control strategies during massive civilian uprisings. The 2011 Arab uprisings saw regimes across the Middle East and North Africa respond to protests against the state using a mix of violence and accommodation to demobilize those in the streets. Some regimes carried out strategies characterized by high levels of lethal violence against those in the streets, while others minimized violence and offered a raft of concessions to protesters; some states adopted a hybrid approach. I argue that authoritarian key control strategies are a product of the interaction between a regime’s past successful dominant control strategies and the level of unity between the executive and the military at the time of the protests. I test this theory by utilizing a small-N, qualitative case study analysis of three Middle Eastern and North African countries that had distinctly different outcomes in terms of their control strategies: Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria. Data was collected from primary and secondary source material, including news reports, scholarly literature, and interviews conducted in Tunis, Tunisia during fieldwork in 2016. I find that regimes tend to adopt historically dominant strategies when civil-military unity exists, however breaks between the military and the executive result in mixed strategies or the termination of the protest phase.

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