Democratization Theory and the “Arab Spring”


More than twenty-five years have passed since the publication of Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy, the four pioneering volumes edited by Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead that inaugurated third-wave democratization theory. More than fifteen years have passed since the 1996 publication of our own Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Looking back, what do we find useable or applicable from works on democratization from this earlier period, and what concepts need to be modified? In particular, what new perspectives are needed in light of the recent upheavals in the Arab world? Here we focus on three topics that have been illuminated by the events of the Arab Spring: 1) the relationship between democracy and religion, especially in the world’s Muslim-majority countries; 2) the character of hybrid regimes that mix authoritarian and democratic elements; and 3) the nature of “sultanism” and its implications for transitions to democracy.