UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Issue indivisibility as an explanatory model for the Arab Spring Halderman, Frank Douglas


This thesis examines the Arab Awakening in four countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria—and argues that Ron Hassner’s model of issue indivisibility (2009) rather than James Fearon’s model of the commitment problem (2004) provides the best explanation for these uprisings. In each case, the presidency and control of the nation is best described as a super-valuable good, which was considered to be essentially indivisible by state and non-state actors. The presidential incumbents rejected the public’s demands for their resignation and democratic transition and sanctioned military violence to maintain the status quo. The public, maintaining their resolve to oust their president from office, rejected power sharing, fearing the deposed leaders would renege on any negotiated agreement in the future (Fearon, 2004). The second contribution of this thesis, albeit not a new discovery, is that the survival of these dictators was critically dependent on military support. In Tunisia and Egypt, the military’s shift of support to the protestors resulted in the sudden fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak from power. In Libya, sanctioned intervention by a UN military coalition resulted in Gaddafi’s elimination, whereas the Syrian military’s support of the regime ensures the continuation of Assad’s presidency. The third contribution of this thesis is that the Assad regime’s use of recombinant authoritarianism—the adaption of its policies following events in its neighbouring Arab countries—has strengthened its prospects for survival.

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