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A Theory of Elites but a Story of Challengers: Authoritarian Institutions, Elite Factionalism, and Regime Resilience in the Islamic Republic of Iran

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Item Summary

Title: A Theory of Elites but a Story of Challengers: Authoritarian Institutions, Elite Factionalism, and Regime Resilience in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Authors: Moheet, Amir
Issue Date: Aug 2016
Publisher: [Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2016]
Abstract: The Islamic Republic of Iran has steadily exhibited an uncanny institutional capacity to resist democracy that has been absent elsewhere where “Spring” uprisings succeeded in expelling long-standing authoritarian incumbents from office, such as in Tunisia and Egypt. Moreover, the Iranian regime’s remarkable resilience has emerged in spite of the presence of a ruling party, long considered to be the most important institution that sustains authoritarian rule. How has the Iranian regime survived decades of elite factionalism, electoral uncertainty, and recurrent outbreaks of mass popular unrest despite the absence of the very institution that theoretical expectation suggests should make it particularly prone to collapse? What explains the dramatic divergence in democratic outcomes among single-party authoritarian regimes throughout the region?
This dissertation situates Iran within the context of the comparative literature on authoritarian institutions, specifically the role of political parties in prolonging authoritarian rule. Critically, I contend that the coalitional strength of authoritarianism is determined not necessarily by the presence of a centralized ruling party—long considered to be the climax of authoritarianism’s institutional muscle—but by discrete patterns of contentious politics that erupted before the establishment of authoritarian rule. I argue that disparities in the institutional strength of authoritarian regimes are the product of distinct socio-historical patterns that shape state capacity to overcome problems associated with elite collective action and mass mobilization over the long-term. The social, political and institutional norms generated during protracted, ideologically based social conflict—or social revolution—I contend, are more robust sources for sustaining elite collective action amid particularly threatening episodes of contentious politics.
Given that prerevolutionary contentious politics in Iran was grounded in an antiauthoritarian struggle pitting populist social forces against the state, I argue that the coalitional strength of prerevolutionary social forces would later engender the type of contentious politics that continues to punctuate the postrevolutionary political order: endemic factionalism and popular protest. Simply put, strong prerevolutionary coalitions produced strong postrevolutionary factions.
Yet the Iranian regime’s incorporation strategies are not what we would expect. Whereas almost all revolutionary regimes and postcolonial states born of protracted, ideologically based violent struggle construct broad-based ruling parties to institutionalize their rule, due to factional bickering and the underlying strength of social-democratic coalitions, the Iranian regime was forced to abolish its brief experiment with party-based politics. By leveraging the counterintuitive expectations generated by these dynamics, I aim to bridge the gulf between theoretical expectation of ruling party strength with empirical observation of its ensuing weakness.
Description: Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/51502
Appears in Collections:Ph.D. - Political Science


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