Transition towards Revolution and Reform: The Arab Spring Realised?
by Sonia L. Alianak
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. 224 pp. $120.
Reviewed by Jonathan Spyer
Middle East Quarterly
Transition is a readable and useful addition to the literature on a momentous period that addresses a fascinating question: How did some Arab regimes successfully ride the wave of change that hit the Middle East in early 2011 while others fell? The seeming greater durability of Arab monarchies compared to republican regimes is perhaps the most interesting phenomenon noted by Alianak, and the one she examines most closely.
The author, an associate professor in political science at the University of Texas, focuses on four case studies—Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. The middle two states are republics that saw the toppling of their authoritarian leaders as a result of internal unrest in 2011. The other two are monarchies that experienced widespread unrest and agitation but emerged intact through a judicious combination of reform and repression (different amounts in each case, as the author notes).
Choosing Morocco and Jordan as her case studies of monarchies permits Alianak to avoid the easiest explanation offered for monarchical survival—namely, the fact that many of them have small citizen populations and great, energy-based wealth. Examining two monarchies where these variables do not apply gives her observations greater cogency and persuasiveness.
Alianak has devised two theoretical paradigms to explain the course of events—the "hierarchical dissonance" and "pendulum" models. The former posits that attempts at revolution occurred when "rulers and ruled experienced an intolerable dissonance in their respective values or priorities," coupled with a feeling by the ruled that existing governmental structures afforded no possibility of change. The pendulum model attempts to explain the process whereby leaders seek to cope with this dissonance in values through "co-optation, repression, democratic experiments, and religion." The reviewer found this model less useful because the pendulum metaphor seemed a somewhat superfluous concept for explaining the process whereby a threatened leader will adopt measures intended to preserve his rule.
The author concludes that monarchs lasted because they could claim Islamic and tribal legitimacy, which allowed them to stand above the fray of politics. In contrast, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt could not marshal such support.
Related Topics: Middle East politics | Jonathan Spyer | Summer 2015 MEQ
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