When Revolutionary Coalitions Break Down: Polarization, Protest, and the Tunisian Political Crisis of August 2013

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Chantal Berman Department of Politics, Princeton University,

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Revolutionary coalitions often break down in the aftermath of revolution, leading to the collapse of transitional governments. Fragmentation among revolutionary elites has been extensively theorized, but few works consider the origins and consequences of polarization among non-elite protesters in the revolutionary coalition. This paper examines the case of Tunisia to unpack how polarization among former revolutionaries may drive secondary waves of mobilization that imperil governing coalitions, even when elites are cooperating. Unique protest surveys of pro- and anti-government demonstrations during the Tunisian political crisis of 2013 – which catalyzed the resignation of the country’s first elected assembly – show that polarization within this coalition occurred along ideological lines concerning the role of Islam in governance but not along class lines, as some theories of transition would predict. Revolutionaries are re-mobilized in part through divergent narratives concerning which social groups participated most in the revolutionary struggle, and which groups suffered and profited most under the old regime. This paper counters the elite-centrism of predominant “transitology” approaches by highlighting how protest politics may shape institutional transitions.

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