Sparks and Firewalls: the Di usion of Protest and Quiescence in the post-Arab Spring Middle East

By Steven T. Brooke
Submitted to Session P4739 (On the Verge of Rout: The Politics of Hope and Disappointment Post the Arab Spring, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
LCD Projector without Audio;
Under what conditions do citizens decide to join in or abstain from protesting an authoritarian regime? To what extent do the trajectories of nearby, ostensibly similar states inform their heuristics about the utility and likely outcomes of mobilization or
demobilization? Does the subject of protest matter when citizens are deciding whether to mobilize or remain quiescent? Drawing from the literature on cognition and behavioral economics, we argue that examples of protest failure are more consequential for informing citizens' decisions about whether or not to mobilize than examples of protest success. We contend, furthermore, that this eff ect is magnifi ed when the subject of potential mobilization aligns with what people perceive to be the sources of nearby mobilization. We test the theory through an original survey experiment of 500 Egyptian college students. The results show that those respondents exposed to cases where protests led to a democratic breakthrough (Tunisia) are less consequential than
those where protests resulted in repression and civil war (Syria), or a general control condition. Further, cases of protest failure exhibited the strongest deterrent eff ects on those citizens who saw the drivers of Arab Spring protests as inherently political, as opposed to mobilization sparked by economic, human rights, or corruption-based grievances. In addition to generating new insights into the micro-level decision calculuses of protestors in one of the region's most turbulent countries, the results also
suggest revisiting theoretical arguments that authoritarian regimes secure their rule by maintaining a widespread "barrier of fear" that prevents citizen mobilization.