7. Arab Spring: blurring or rebuilding of external/internal divide?

More than two year after the beginning of the 'Arab Spring', this panel aims at analyzing main political developments in Middle Eastern and North African countries. The focus of this panel is comparative and not only on political developments within these countries but also on the role and influence played by international and regional actors (such as the European Union, the United States, and Iran) in this area. Therefore we particularly welcome three main types of contributions: 1) to evaluate comparatively the process of regime change at the country or regional level, diachronically or synchronically, focusing on domestic variables; 2) to discuss a comparative assessment of external policies implemented by different external actors; and 3) to analyze the international – domestic interplay by addressing questions on the 'outside–In' and 'inside–out' relationship. Contributions should be written in English and selected papers will be offered to be part of a special issue proposal on the topic of this panel.

Chair: Elena Baracani (University of Bologna
Discussant: Leonardo Morlino (Luiss "Guido Carli" - Rome)



1. Marina Calculli (University “Ca’ Foscari” – Venice) - Republican vulnerability and monarchical stability? Paradigms and myths of political legitimacy in the post-2011 Arab word

Precipitating the ousting of regimes crucial to preserving the former regional status quo, the Arab Spring has lead to surface a divide between Arab jumhuriyyàt (republics) and Arab mamlakat (monarchies). Indeed, while the political legitimacy of republican leaders appeared more vulnerable, Arab kings stunningly persist in maintaining their domestic control. This has revived the argument that ‘monarchy’ better fits with Arab culture than ‘republic’. This paper strongly contests this thesis, rather arguing that the neo-patrimonial character of Arab regimes has turned the political legitimacy to be intrinsically dependent on the leader’s ability to finance the authoritarian social pact, in return of being granted minimal representation’s commitment. In this perspective oil states – and particularly Gulf monarchies – appear to be more apt to fulfil this paradigm. This paper, first, analyses the relation between “neo-patrimonial (material-based) legitimacy” and political stability in the Arab world at domestic level. It, secondly, investigates how GCC monarchies are capitalizing their political model, through strengthening patronage-oriented alliances in the region, also orienting post-2011 political transitions.


2. Silvia Colombo (Istituto Affari Internazionali and Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane) - Domestic and Foreign Politics Dynamics in the Gulf: A Spring in the making?

The Arab Awakening of 2011 has arguably altered the outlook of the North African and Middle Eastern region in ways that were unpredictable only two years ago. Domestic change and transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, to a lesser extent, in Syria due to the civil war raging there have interacted with profound change dynamics at the regional and international level. Contrasting with the lacklustre western political engagement with the momentous changes taking place in the region and the fumbling diplomatic response to the dramatic breakdown of Syria, the response of the Arab Gulf states to the upheavals of the Arab Awakening and their own evolving domestic politics represent some of the most significant questions to understand the changing geopolitics of the region. While the Gulf is perhaps “too rich to revolt”’, it has not proved immune from the contagion of political unrest and from the need to respond to the transformative developments in its own neighbourhood, including the emerge of new political parties and movements. Gulf politics has thus entered the most unpredictable and volatile era since the establishment of these countries. This paper will shed light on these complexities by assessing the interplay between domestic and foreign policies changes triggered by the Arab Awakening in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 


3. Rosa Rossi (University of Catania) - The Democratic Transition/Civil Society Nexus. EU’s support to Civil Society in Middle East and North Africa

The Arab Spring has given the EU the opportunity to rethink its policies towards Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. The recent EU rhetoric acknowledges the importance of driving reforms locally and underlines that European institutions have no universal model to export. Nevertheless, the EU commits itself to new initiatives that aim to support civil society capacity, as it believes that civil society organizations are a crucial element in driving such transformations. Civil society’s promising role in developing democratic political institutions, however, has become controversial both in the democracy transition literature and in policy-making. The consensus on the unquestionable positive role of these actors in political change settings has come to an end. As shown by Encarnación (2006), the “sport among academics and political commentators” of attacking civil society actors started at the beginning of the 1990s. Doubts on civil society’s role in the promotion of democracy are even more relevant if we consider MENA countries (Cavatorta and Durac 2010). Yet, the Arab Spring events brought new attention to civil society’s role in political changes and offered the input to better understand how these movements arose and their potentiality in fostering political transitions. Such changes seem to offer new possibilities to employ the linkage model – basically founded on the international socialization process – to study democracy promotion in MENA region (Levitsky and Way 2005; Schimmelfennig and Lavenex 2011).

The paper addresses the relationship between the internal and external dimension of democracy promotion strategies. In particular the main objectives are: a) assessing the role of Civil Soviety Organizations (CSOs) in MENA countries, and specifically their openness to transnational exchanges as a preliminary condition in order to apply the linkage model of democracy promotion; b) exploring the appropriateness of EU strategies through a bottom-up approach. In regard to the first point, the presence and independence of CSOs in the different MENA countries is assessed and compared in order to explore the potential link between the number and quality of such non-state actors and the conditions of political freedoms in each country. As for the second point, the different policies adopted by EU institutions to support civil society in the area are critically analyzed.


4. Stefania Panebianco (University of Catania) - The EU as a democracy facilitator in the Mediterranean: challenges to domestic and international strategies

For decades the EU has claimed to act as a democracy promoter all over the world, in its neighbourhood in particular. Yet the EU’s role as a democracy facilitator in the Mediterranean is weakened by EU domestic conditions (e.g. different EU member states’ interests) and by systemic constraints reducing the EU policy effects. Is the EU a regional actor in crisis? This paper investigates the tension between domestic and international dimensions of democracy promotion by addressing theoretical and empirical aspects, namely by focusing on: 1) the EU as an international actor; and 2) the Mediterranean neighbours in transition.