Blog 3- Conclusions and Charts

This is my final post, so I’d like to share some of the conclusions I have made from studying the Arab Spring.

I focused on four countries that had major protests. These included Tunisia, which had a successful democratic transition, Egypt, which had a partly successful democratic transition, Syria, which erupted into civil war, and Bahrain, which maintained the status quo. I wanted to see what variables influenced these outcomes, and how a big of a variable digital media really was. By reading literature on the Arab Spring, I realized that wired civil society, internet filtering, age distributions, international pressures, natural resource wealth, media presence, and the type of governmental response to protest (soft line or hard line) all interacted to determine the outcome of each country’s revolution. It appears that having a large wired civil society, little or no internet filtering, a lack of international pressures, low natural resource wealth, media presence, and soft line governmental responses tended to result in regime change and the opposite factors resulted in either civil war or no change. The presence of these factors in the countries I’ve studied is listed in a chart I attached. Here are the reasons why these variable contribute or do not contribute to regime change.

Having a wired civil society allowed networks of people to share common grievances, such as income inequality, unemployment, high fuel costs, rising prices, and corrupt and oppressive regimes over a relatively anonymous public sphere through social media, blogs, and other digital communications. Wired civil societies also allowed activists to organize protests and share updates on these protests with other activists in different regions of the country or even other countries. In collective action models, structural links to other activists help to encourage participation in protest. The links that social media and other forms of digital communication formed accurately modeled this theory.

When government regimes monitor internet filtering, however, it is less likely that protests will be successful. Regimes are able to shut down critical sites to popular revolutions like Facebook and Twitter, and crowd source information to determine who is inciting protest and where protests are likely to occur if they have infrastructure to monitor the internet. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are countries that have pervasive if not substantial internet filtering and had little to no regime change despite there being protests.

Median age is important because many Arabs who were young were technologically savvy, unemployed, single, and struggling with economic issues like inflation. When actors in collective action models have few biographical constraints like children, careers, or marriage, they are more likely to protest. Therefore, a low median age positively relates with regime change because it indicates higher rates of unemployment, low biographical constraints, and a greater technological know how which created low cost opportunities for protest.

International pressures often hindered revolutions in oil producing states because western nations, especially the United States which has a lot of leverage in the Middle East, prefer regime stability over democracy to keep oil exports consistent. Therefore, countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could conduct human rights abuses without much international criticism compared to other countries like Egypt and Syria where the United States intervened on behalf of the rebels.

Natural resource wealth was a very consistent indicator of regime change. Countries with lots of natural resources, mostly oil in this case, were able to provide economic concessions to their populations that quelled protests. Furthermore, GDP per capita is higher in these states, and citizens are generally better off in these countries than in Arabic countries without resource wealth. This gives them an incentive not to protest because there is more to lose if the regime collapses.

Media presence was important because it allowed protesters to document government abuses. In Tahrir Square, Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern news network, continued to film twenty four hours a day, preventing the Egyptian armed forces from violently attacking the protesters for fear of international criticism and inciting more protest. In Bahrain, where Al Jazeera’s cameras were turned off, soldiers open fired on peaceful protesters and stopped the protests.

Finally, the type of governmental response altered the result of revolutions. If a government cracked down on protesters in a hard line response, it either stopped protests or resulted in insurgencies and violent protests as in Syria. When governments responded with soft line responses by providing economic concessions, it appeared to quell protests as was the case in many oil producing states that could afford these concessions. In Tunisia and Egypt where political concessions were made to have elections, it seemed to produce regime change if the opposition was strong and continuously protested for more concessions.

This summary is very brief but it ties together many of the casual factors of regime change in the Arab Spring. Most of them are related and they occur together making it hard to isolate them. Unfortunately, I could not accurately determine the extent or influence of these variables.

I also attached graphs of Freedom House scores for Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Syria starting in 2001 and progressing until 2014. These scores include a freedom rating, a civil liberties rating, and a political rights rating. The ratings are on a scale of 1-7 with a score of 7 considered not free and a score of 1 considered free. After the Arab Spring, only Tunisia’s scores significantly improved making it a partly free state. Bahrain’s, Syria’s, and Egypt’s scores either stayed the same or worsened indicating that the protests in these countries were unsuccessful.




  1. This is all incredibly interesting. After having studied this for a whole summer, what is your opinion on the Freedom House scores that you mentioned? How accurate do you think they are as metrics of such a complex region as the Middle East? I’d be interested in knowing how they quantify “freedom” in their data.

  2. casilverman says:

    Your project seems super-interesting and very thorough! Have you heard of the article “Comparing the Arab Revolts” by Lucan Way? He argues that one key variable in regime change is the strength of the network of elites backing the government, and writes of both material and non-material ties that governments can use to cater to crucial elites. Anyway, really enjoyed reading your conclusions, thanks!

  3. This is fantastic! I felt like I’ve just read pretty adequate summaries of the major Arab Spring locations. Did Al Jazeera happen to not be filming in Bahrain or did the government prevent them? It seems as though willingness to demonstrate heavy-handedness prior to the uprising (prevent the media from getting in) helps increase the government’s repression during the conflict.