This article intervenes into an ongoing debate on authoritarian regimes in the Arab world following the uprisings of 2011, in particular addressing the perceived failure of those uprisings to bring about “transition” to liberal democratic models. Drawing upon the method of comparative historical sociology used in seminal analyses of democratization and dictatorship in Europe, Asia and the Americas, the article seeks to explain the varying trajectories of the Arab Uprising states in terms of several structural factors, namely the balance of class forces, the relative autonomy of the state and the geo-political context. The article provides an empirical comparison of the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Syria as points on a continuum of outcomes following the Arab uprising. The article mounts a critique of the absence of class analysis in mainstream transition theory and hypothesises instead an important role for workers’ movements in bringing about even basic elements of liberal democracy. The empirical comparison is shown to support this hypothesis, demonstrating that in Tunisia, the state where the worker's movement was strongest a constitutional settlement has been reached while Syria, the state with the weakest and least independent workers’ movement has descended into counter-revolution and civil war: the case of Egypt lying between these two poles.
- Arab uprisings
- historical sociology