Army embeddedness, political opportunities and threats, and the dynamics of contention: Understanding the varying role of the armed forces in the Egyptian, Syrian, and Libyan 2011 revolts

Eitan Alimi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In many Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, the army has traditionally been a central pillar of the authoritarian regimes, responsible for the security and integrity of the state and a symbol of national sovereignty and social unity. Nevertheless, the 2011 Arab revolts witnessed stark differences in the response of the armies. This article argues that a relational reading of the Structure of Political Opportunities and Threats, particularly when its dimension of the state’s capacity and propensity for repression is informed by a MENA-salient regime feature—army embeddedness—offers a compelling solution to the puzzle. An analysis of the Egyptian, Syrian, and Libyan episodes of contention, based on a comparative method that combines mechanism-based process tracing and typological theorizing, demonstrates the theoretical payoffs of this sensitized dimension. Cross-case similarities underscore the value of thinking about the army as a full-fledge agent embedded within a web of relations with social and political forces. Specifically, findings reveal how army embeddedness shapes the respective operation and effect of the mechanisms “political opportunities” and “political threats,” and highlight the importance of differentiating between the state’s capacity and the state’s propensity for repression. Within-case variations highlight the historically specific development of such embeddedness and how it plays out distinctively in each case, forming different scenarios of high and low capacity and propensity for repression.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)402-421
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Sociology
Volume64
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.

Keywords

  • Arab Spring
  • army embeddedness
  • causal mechanisms
  • contentious politics
  • political opportunities
  • political threats
  • process tracing
  • relationalism

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