by Ellis Goldberg, University of Washington
This memo was prepared for ‘The Arab Thermidor: The Resurgence of the Security State’ workshop held at LSE on 10 October 2014 in collaboration with POMEPS.
“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come é, bisogna che tutto cambi”
If you want things to stay as they are, they have to change: These are the words challenging an elite faced with ruin which Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa places in the mouth of Prince Tancredi Falconieri in the novel “Il Gattopardi” (The Leopard). Lampedusa’s novel is set in Sicily during the unsettled conditions of the Risorgimento. The problem confronting the old nobility is what to do in the face of the new Italian nationalism and the revolutionary changes to the state and society that the Republican general Giuseppe Garibaldi hoped to impose. To preserve its influence and elite status (that is, to ensure that nothing changes), the family must accept the new forms of governance (that is, accept that everything has changed).
Prince Tancredi’s observation offers a useful framework for understanding the different outcomes of what appear to be similar processes in Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisia has garnered high praise for passing the “Huntington two-turnover” test that every other Arab country has failed: The party that dominated the government immediately after the fall of the authoritarian regime has now peacefully given way to its opposition. Tunisia’s October legislative election therefore marks what political scientists call the consolidation of democracy because it seems that all political actors accept the verdict of the ballot box. This supposed success contrasts vividly with the failure of Egypt’s transition, which ended instead in intense political polarization and a military takeover.
To understand why the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have had different outcomes, his guidance would be to leave aside the dominant narrative of secularism, Islamism and the political weakness of the youth. Those contentious and seductive issues lead us astray from the more fundamental and essential role of the ruling elite, without whom no country can make the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. We must think of those old elites, even in a revolutionary uprising, as active participants who are neither passive nor innocent.
Other available memos in the series
‘The Authoritarian Impulse vs. the Democratic Imperative: Political Learning as a Precondition for Sustainable Development in the Maghreb’, John P. Entelis, Fordham University
‘Elite Fragmentation and Securitization in Bahrain’, by Toby Matthiesen, University of Cambridge
‘Militaries, Civilians and the Crisis of the Arab State’, by Yezid Sayigh, Carnegie Middle East Center
‘Explaining Democratic Divergence: Why Tunisia has Succeeded and Egypt has Failed’, Eva Bellin, Brandeis University
‘Is Libya a Proxy War?’, Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
‘Fiscal Politics of Enduring Authoritarianism’, Pete W. Moore, Case Western Reserve University
‘The Role of Militaries in the Arab Thermidor’, Robert Springborg, Sciences Po
‘Mass Politics and the Future of Authoritarian Governance in the Arab World’, Steven Heydemann, United States Institute of Peace
‘Security Dilemmas and the ‘Security State’ Question in Jordan’, Curtis R. Ryan, Appalachian State University
‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rise of the Security State in Iran’, Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews
‘A Historical Sociology Approach to Authoritarian Resilience in Post-Arab Uprising MENA’, Raymond Hinnebusch, University of St Andrews
‘The Arab Thermidor’, Marc Lynch, George Washington University