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Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria (Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Cultures)by Joshua Stacher
Synopses & Reviews
The decades-long resilience of Middle Eastern regimes meant that few anticipated the 2011 Arab Spring. But from the seemingly rapid leadership turnovers in Tunisia and Egypt to the protracted stalemates in Yemen and Syria, there remains a common outcome: ongoing control of the ruling regimes. While some analysts and media outlets rush to look for democratic breakthroughs, autocratic continuity—not wide-ranging political change—remains the hallmark of the region's upheaval.
Contrasting Egypt and Syria, Joshua Stacher examines how executive power is structured in each country to show how these preexisting power configurations shaped the uprisings and, in turn, the outcomes. Presidential power in Egypt was centralized. Even as Mubarak was forced to relinquish the presidency, military generals from the regime were charged with leading the transition. The course of the Syrian uprising reveals a key difference: the decentralized character of Syrian politics. Only time will tell if Asad will survive in office, but for now, the regime continues to unify around him. While debates about election timetables, new laws, and the constitution have come about in Egypt, bloody street confrontations continue to define Syrian politics—the differences in authoritarian rule could not be more stark.
Political structures, elite alliances, state institutions, and governing practices are seldom swept away entirely—even following successful revolutions—so it is vital to examine the various contexts for regime survival. Elections, protests, and political struggles will continue to define the region in the upcoming years. Examining the lead-up to the Egyptian and Syrian uprisings helps us unlock the complexity behind the protests and transitions. Without this understanding, we lack a roadmap to make sense of the Middle East's most important political moment in decades.
"Divergent upheavals yield counterintuitive insights in this rickety academic study of the 2011 Arab Spring. Kent State University political scientist Stacher explains both the peaceful fall of Mubarak in Egypt — replaced by a military council that, he contends, replicated the old regime with new faces — and the bloody crackdown in Syria with a convoluted theory of state structure. Egypt's smooth transition, he argues, owes much to a strong, centralized government in which all power flowed from the president's office; once the generals supplanted Mubarak as the executive authority, they could swiftly remake the regime to placate Tahrir Square. Syria was less adaptable because it is a decentralized state where the dictator Assad shares power with the Ba'ath party, the military, and government ministries, making top-down revampings to appease discontent impossible; paradoxically, this fragmented structure caused Syria's rulers to unite to violently suppress the uprising. Like much political science, Stacher's treatise is really political journalism — his methodology is 'formal and informal interviews' — overlaid with theory. Though dry and repetitive, his discussion of Syrian and Egyptian elites is well-informed and savvy. Still, the concepts with which Stacher maps this terrain feel too abstract, narrow, and inconsistent to make a compelling account of the Arab political earthquake." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Comparing Egypt and Syria, this book argues that Arab states where executive power is more centralized are better at adapting to prevent regime change than states where decentralized relationships prevails.
About the Author
Joshua Stacher is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kent State University. He is a regular contributor to and on the editorial board of MERIP's Middle East Report. He has made media appearances and written commentary for NPR, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Foreign Affairs, Jadaliyya, and The Boston Globe, among others. He is also a founding member of the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies.
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History and Social Science » Middle East » General History