M. Tahir Kilavuz

He is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests include authoritarian regimes, regime change and democratization, survey analysis, political Islam and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) politics, concentrating on Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. In his dissertation research, he focuses on the factors behind authoritarian persistence and democratization in the MENA with a specific focus on the causes of elite conflict and cooperation. In his broader research, he works on the causes of coups d'état, protest participation, experimental survey analysis and democratization in a cross-regional perspective. 

Once Allies, Always Allies: 

How Coalition Building under Authoritarianism Shape Democratic Transitions in the MENA?

M. Tahir Kilavuz

University of Notre Dame

CSID Conference 2018



This study aims to understand the causes of cooperation during transition processes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and their impact on transition outcomes. Even though the literature suggests that different patterns of cooperation among actors led to diverging transition outcomes in the MENA, we still do not know the causes behind these different patterns. This study moves away from cooperation during the transitions and examines the underlying causes of these different patterns in order to explain the diverging transition outcomes.

I argue that origins of a strategic cooperation during the transition, and successful transition outcomes in return, can be found in the period before the transition attempt. Cooperation during a transition requires the resolution of commitment problems among actors. If the main opposition actors build a successful coalition bloc and work against the regime together under authoritarianism, they develop common grounds, organizational and social capital, trust and a shared vision towards democracy building. Once a democratic transition process starts, these mechanisms provide a solution for commitment problems and facilitate cooperation as a transition strategy among these actors. Without these mechanisms, new rules and challenges of the transition process hinders such cooperation and a successful transition. 

The analysis of two failed (Algeria in the early 1990s and Egypt during the Uprisings) and one successful (Tunisia) transition attempts indicates that this pattern goes beyond the Arab Uprisings. In both Algeria and Egypt, the main opposition actors did not have a history of successful coalition building under authoritarianism. When the transition process started, groups could not overcome commitment problems and meet in a common goal. In Tunisia, on the other hand, the opposition actors from different ideological camps had a history of cooperation under Ben Ali regime and founded a strong inter-ideological coalition bloc named October 18 Collective. These experiences provided mechanisms to overcome the commitment problems and helped the parties to pursue cooperation as a strategy for transition. When transition process was in jeopardy, the past experience of coalition building and dialogue proved to be helpful to overcome challenges. 

This study is based on a 12-month fieldwork in Algiers, Tunis and Istanbul which includes over 100 interviews with primary and secondary actors and archival research as well as an original elite survey with experiments in Tunisia. The study combines experimental and qualitative evidence and meticulously links the experiences under authoritarianism to cooperation during transition using process tracing.