Adapting authoritarianism: institutions and co-optation in Egypt and Syria
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This PhD thesis compares Egypt and Syria’s authoritarian political systems. While the tendency in social science political research treats Egypt and Syria as similarly authoritarian, this research emphasizes differences between the two systems with special reference to institutions and co-optation. Rather than reducibly understanding Egypt and Syria as sharing similar histories, institutional arrangements, or ascribing to the oft-repeated convention that “Syria is Egypt but 10 years behind,” this thesis focuses on how events and individual histories shaped each states current institutional strengthens and weaknesses. Specifically, it explains the how varying institutional politicization or de-politicization affects each state’s capabilities for co-opting elite and non-elite individuals. Beginning with a theoretical framework that considers the limited utility of democratization and transition theoretical approaches, the work underscores the persistence and durability of authoritarianism. Chapter two details the politicized institutional divergence between Egypt and Syria that began in the 1970s. Chapter three and four examines how institutional politicization or de-politicization affects elite and non-elite individual co-optation in Egypt and Syria. Chapter five discusses the study’s general conclusions and theoretical implications. This thesis’s argument is that Egypt and Syria co-opt elites and non-elites differently because of the varying degrees of institutional politicization in each governance system. Rather than view one country as more politically developed than the other, this work argues that Syria’s political institutions are more politicized than their Egyptian counterparts. Syria’s political arena is, thus, described as politicized-patrimonialism. Syria’s politicized-patrimonial arena produces uneven co-optation of elites and non-elites as they are diffused through competing institutions. Conversely, the Egyptian political arena remains highly personalized as weak institutions and individuals are manipulated and molded according to the president’s ruling clique. This is referred to as personalized-patrimonialism. As a consequence, Egypt’s political establishment demonstrates more flexibility in ad hoc altering and adapting its arena depending on the emergence of crises. This study’s theoretical implications suggest that, contrary to modernization and democratization theory’s adage that institutions lead to a political development, politicized institutions within a patrimonial order actually hinder regime adaptation because consensus is harder to achieve and maintain. It is within this context that Egypt’s de-politicized institutional framework advantages its top political elite. In this reading of Egyptian and Syrian politics, Egypt’s personalized political arena is more adaptable than Syria’s. These conclusions do not indicate that political reform is a process underway in either state.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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