May I borrow your MPs? The political participation of “authoritarian” diasporas

By Emanuela Dalmasso
Submitted to Session P4983 (Diaspora and Political Participation, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
While globalization facilitates people movement, authoritarian regimes, instead of moving in a democratic direction, are consolidating. Combined, these two different trends have prompted political scientists to enrich the academic debate with new approaches. The limited but promising literature dealing with the authoritarian governance of diasporas has focused on the extraterritorial expansion of voting rights (Brand, 2010) or on institutions and policies that authoritarian regimes set up to control and repress perceived threats coming from abroad (Lewis, 2015). This literature, however, does not help us understand whether and how authoritarian countries make use of the political participation of their diasporas in their democratic countries of residence. This paper identifies a new mechanism which, despite not being authoritarian in essence, may represent an asset for authoritarian regimes in search of legitimation in a global age. Considering the case of contemporary Morocco, this paper discusses an authoritarian regime’s policies towards its emigrants who are politically active in their democratic countries of residence. It argues that the diaspora who is actively involved in the democratic political sphere of its country of residence can function as an instrument of “soft power” for authoritarian regimes. The paper relies on elite and key-informant interviews conducted in Morocco, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France between August 2015 and May 2016. It details how Morocco, despite denying its population abroad the right to fully participate in the domestic political life, displays a high degree of activism in creating links with European citizens of Moroccan origin who are politically active in their respective countries. In practice, this means that the regime lobbies on a special subcategory of its population abroad: those who are elected in various European institutions (such as parliaments, provincial or regional institutions and municipal councils) in order to promote its interests. By analyzing the Moroccan case study, the paper aims at shedding light on the processes underlying the legitimation of authoritarian regimes that are facing the challenges, but also the opportunities, posed by globalization.