Political economics of Arab Spring..

Roland Hodler of University of Lucerne writes this nice paper (another link here).

He provides a model on Arab Spring. He says there were differences in the Middle east  countries which went through the uprising:

The Arab Spring started with protests and demonstrations in Tunisia in December 2010, and has spread across North Africa and the Middle East. Most dictators initially responded with a mixture of repression and concessions. Nevertheless there are large differences  in their responses and, consequently, the outcomes of the Arab spring across the region.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the dictators conceded power after mostly peaceful protests lasting less than one month, thereby allowing for political transitions from dictatorships to more democratic regimes. Shortly thereafter, the king of Saudi Arabia announced an extra US-$ 36 billions in bene ts to the Saudi people, which was generally viewed as an attempt to bribe them not to protest.  In Libya and Syria, the dictators responded to protests and demonstrations with political violence, which led to full-blown civil wars.

These large differences in the dictators’ responses seem puzzling. After all, these dictators and ruling families had all been in power for decades, and they had always shown a large appetite for personal enrichment, but little or no appetite for democracy and civil liberties. 

His model tries to simplify the cases:

Without denying that many country-speci c factors may have in uenced the behavior of each single Arab dictator, the goal of this paper is to understand the general pattern of the dictators’ responses across the Arab world. For that purpose
I present a highly stylized model.

In this model the dictator has two options to prevent democratization and to stay in power: he can try to bribe all citizens to stop protesting, or to rely on members of his own ethnic or religious group to repress the protests and to ght other groups if necessary. In equilibrium his behavior depends on the country’s oil revenues, and whether or not the dictator belongs to the ethnic or religious majority.

A dictator from the majority group can never a fford the violent support of the members of his own group, because they know that a democratic majority government would also channel oil revenues towards them, and because political violence is more chaos prone than continued protests. The dictator therefore chooses to bribe all citizens if the country is sufficiently oil-rich, but has no means to avoid democratization and to stay in power if the country is oil-poor.

For a dictator from the minority group, it is however cheaper to buy the violent support of the members of his group than to bribe all citizens. Their support is relatively cheap because they benefi t considerably less from democratization than the members of the majority group. Therefore, a dictator from the minority group is likely to choose the violent option unless oil revenues are very low.

Does the model predict what actually happened?

Let us briefly compare these theoretical predictions with the di fferent responses of the Arab dictators discussed above.

  • Egypt and Tunisia have little oil, and their dictators were from the religious and ethnic majority. The model predicts that these dictators would have to concede power.
  • Saudi Arabia is oil-rich, and the ruling family from the religious and ethnic majority. The model predicts that they would bribe the people.
  • Libya and Syria were both characterized by dictators belonging to minority groups: Asad belongs to Syria’s Alawi minority, and Qadha came from one of many small tribes in highly fractionalized Libya. Moreover, oil revenues were intermediate in Syria, and relatively high in Libya. The model predicts that civil wars become a likely outcome. The observed outcomes coincide with the model’s predictions in all these cases. 

Hmmm…Nice stuff..

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