MAKING AUTOCRATS ACCOUNTABLE:
INTERESTS, PRIORITIES, AND COOPERATION FOR REGIME CHANGE
When do opposition groups unite to overthrow the authoritarian government? This study examines the conditions under which opposition groups, despite persistent ideological conflicts, are able to achieve a level of long-term cooperation that can transform the status quo. Conventional theories predict cooperation among opposition groups that have common anti-regime interests. However, opposition groups suffer ideological conflicts despite these shared interests in many cases such as the Syrian opposition to the Assad government. Using the case studies of transition to constitutional monarchy in the Ottoman Empire (1876–1908) and France (1814–1830) in combination with network analysis, this study provides evidence that cooperation among opposition groups becomes more likely if groups harmonize their strategies of power transition and postpone ideological conflicts. Also, groups coalesce around the actor, which shows commitment to effective strategies.
This study develops the concept of “de-prioritization,” the process whereby actors postpone the resolution of certain disagreements. Agreeing on ideologies is hard. De-prioritized ideological differences, on the other hand, no longer obstruct cooperation. Once ideological conflicts are sidelined, pragmatic actors abandon ineffective strategies via learning, which, in turn, facilitates coordination on a cooperative solution. Hence, de-prioritizing ideologies and harmonizing strategies prepare the rise of a coherent opposition coalition that has the potential to overthrow the regime or extract democratic concessions. Concomitantly, opposition groups remain divided, at best achieving temporary gains that are later reversed in the course of authoritarian retrenchment, as long as ideological conflicts persist.
This research makes two major contributions: By relaxing the unitary actor assumption and decomposing anti-regime interests, this theory allows distinguishing the cases where the government is weak but surviving because opposition groups are unable to assume power from those where the regime is strong and takes on challengers. Second, this theory allows predicting which group is likely to lead the opposition coalition with respect to the expressed ideological and strategic interests of groups. This research was supported by Penn SAS Teece Fellowship.
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