Go Big or Go Home: The Impacts of Patrimonialism and Sultanism on the Revolutionary Trajectories of the 2011 "Arab Spring"

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:42
Oral Presentation
Caroline MALLETTE, University of Toronto, Canada
Out of the nineteen countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), six experienced mass mobilizations in what has been called the “Arab Spring”. Among these cases where similar regime threatening protests emerged, Tunisia and Egypt saw their regimes toppled with little violence, as the army sided with protestors, whereas in Libya and Syria, a large part of the military remained loyal to the regime and violently suppressed the uprisings, leading to civil war. How can we explain these different outcomes? The 2011 uprisings in the MENA have marked the resurgence of Weber’s concept of “sultanism”, which has been indiscriminately used to characterize Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Arguing that the concept of “sultanism” is unhelpful in explaining the Arab Spring, another branch of the comparative literature has focused on the role of the armed forces. The logic is the following: since we can identify various patterns of army behavior – defection, fracturing, loyalty – within a uniform profile of sultanistic regimes, regime-type-based explanations must be abandoned. I will argue that the opposition between those two segments of the comparative literature stems from a misconception of the “sultanistic” ideal-type, mostly from the confusion between (neo)patrimonialism and its extreme form, sultanism, and the ensuing misqualification of several cases. A better understanding of this specific regime type can help move away from proximate and near tautological causes – i.e., regimes broke down where the armed forces defected – and actually explain this variation in military behavior. Indeed, it will be argued that the varying outcomes can be traced back to the sultanistic or neo-patrimonial nature of the regimes, and that sultanism is a regime type that accurately characterizes Libya and Syria, but of which Tunisia and Egypt fall short of meeting the minimum criteria.