Contested Power and Authoritarian Restructuring: Egypt Between January 2011 and June 2013

By Shimaa Hatab
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 with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Why did the collapse of a dominant party not bring about significant democratic transformation and generate power-sharing pacts? How did new collectively organized alternatives that once capitalized on vulnerability and flaws in previous regimes, fail to withstand the post-rupture dynamics? Why did newly emergent forces opt for alliances that generated new vulnerabilities and unleashed further authoritarian adaptation?

The paper aims to step beyond whether authoritarian resilience or transition paradigm matters to offer two-layered analytical framework based on the leverage level and coherence of demands of pro-democracy forces to account equally for the moment of one-party collapse and the consequent dynamics of authoritarian restructuring in Egypt. I offer more room for complex interactions and strategic contingency between different components of society on the one hand, and between them and old ruling class on the other in the aftermath of the removal of Mubarak. When pro-democracy forces maintain their leveraged position and keep demand-claiming framework unified, they secure consistent democratization pressure that lead to regime breakdown. When they adopt conformist stance and accommodate their demands to incumbent regime, they become captive of the interests of dominant ‘black knights’ and offer them room to maneuver and to hobble efforts to move toward democratization.
The leverage of the pro-democracy forces refers not to the exercise of pressure per se on the old power centers, but rather to the vulnerability of these forces to pressures and ploys exerted by old ruling bloc. Where newly emerging forces lack bargaining power and are heavily affected by old elites’ cooptive/manipulative strategies, leverage is low. By contrast, where new democratic forces possess substantial bargaining power and/or can withstand old elites’ cooptive /manipulative action, leverage is high. Also, unified set of demands is central to understanding variation in the effectiveness of democratization pressure. Fragmented demands made any societal cause for democracy as kind of whirlwind. By contrast persisting and unified demands would help in: (1) heightening the reverberation caused by autocratic abuse and maintaining the cost of repression at its upper limit by attracting a massive influx of societal stakeholders thereby narrowing autocrats’ room to maneuver; (2) re-shaping interests and shifting representative patterns as demand-making creates wide domestic constituencies for democratic norm-abiding behavior; and (3) altering the distribution of power within society, strengthening democratic and opposition forces and weakening and isolating autocrats.
Part of the field research for this paper was conducted between (June 2013- May 2016) in Cairo.