Silvana Toska
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Dissertation

My dissertation asks two questions: What explains the spread of rebellion from one country to another? And why do only some rebellions succeed in overthrowing their regimes? To date, our theories of the causes and spread of rebellion have focused either on individual rebellions or on specific instances of diffusion; as a result, we have no generalized explanation of when and why rebellions are most likely to spread from one location to another or why only some succeed in overthrowing the regime.

In answer to the first question, I argue that the spread of rebellion is linked to the degree of shared identity between countries: the closer the identity of any two countries, the greater the likelihood that rebellion will spread between them. This linkage is activated when a rebellion in one country triggers cognitive and emotional mechanisms in potential rebels in another country. The latter are more receptive if there are domestic opportunity structures characterized by autonomous organizations within a relatively vibrant civil society that reinforce emulation of the original rebellion. In answer to the second question, I argue that two factors affect the likelihood of rebellions to overthrow their regimes: a) a rebellion in an identity neighbor, which weakens a regime by creating loyalty shifts within its ranks while empowering rebel movements in the home country, and b) the size of the opposition.

I test this argument using a new dataset of all rebel movements between 1945-2013, content analysis of data collected from Twitter during the first six months of the Arab Uprisings, and extensive field research and interviews with 184 political actors in Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. My mixed method framework combines crossnational regression and content analysis with in-depth qualitative analysis of key cases of rebellions and revolutions. Evidence from all three investigations suggests that the spread and success of rebellion is strongly associated with shared identity, opportunity structures, and size of opposition; little or no support is found for other accounts of the spread of rebellion.

   
The Multiple Scripts of the Arab Uprisings, in Dan Edelstein & Keith Baker, eds. Scripting Revolutions, Stanford University Press, 2015

In this chapter I compare the nature of the opposition in various revolutionary movements during the last century. I argue that the particularly divided opposition during the Arab Uprisings would make both the creation of a democratic government and rule by any one revolutionary group highly unlikely.

Contextualizing Social Media: Protest Mobilization in the Age of Twitter, in Fahed Yahya Al Sumait et al., eds. The Arab Uprisings One Year Later: Examining the Possibilities and Risks, Rowman and Littlefield, 2015

Social media was an important tool for mobilization and helped facilitate the Arab Uprisings. However, despite its utility for mobilization, I argue that autocratic leaders make a grave mistake in censoring media after rebellion has already started, because such censorship only increases mobilization. Therefore, both the presence and absence of media can exacerbate revolutionary unrest, depending on when they occur in the timeframe of protest mobilization. I also show that this argument applies to other revolutionary events.

Rebels without Borders: Examining the Spread of Rebel Movements

This article derives from Chapter III of my dissertation and analyzes why rebellions diffuse from one country to another. I argue that diffusion of rebellion is linked to the degree of shared identity between countries: the closer the identity of any two countries, the greater the likelihood that rebellion will spread between them. This linkage occurs because a rebellion in one country activates cognitive and emotional mechanisms in potential rebels in other countries. The latter are, in addition, more receptive if their domestic opportunity structures are characterized by autonomous organizations within a relatively vibrant civil society that emulates the original rebellion. I test this argument using a new dataset of all rebel movements between 1945-2013, as well as interviews with political actors. My mixed method framework combines crossnational regression and compares rebellions that fail to replicate with others that spread. Evidence from both methods suggests that the spread of rebellion is strongly associated with shared identity and opportunity structures; little or no support is found for other accounts of the spread of rebellion.

Why Rebellions Succeed

This article addresses the second question of my dissertation: why do rebellions succeed? I argue that two factors affect the likelihood of success. The first factor is a rebellion or revolution in an identity neighbor, which increases the likelihood of success by leading to loyalty shifts within the ranks of the regime while empowering rebel movements. The second factor is the size and nature of the opposition, with a more coherent and inclusive opposition increasing the likelihood of success. I test this argument on the same original dataset of all rebel movements between 1945-2013. The statistical findings support this argument, which is robust to the inclusion of alternative explanations, including the nature of the regime, natural resources available to the regime, and foreign intervention.


The Impact of Movement Cohesion on Success: Evidence from Twitter (with Michael Macy and Isabel Klouman)

In this paper we use Twitter data collected since 2011 to look for the structural antecedents of the sectarian collapse of the revolution in Egypt. We have developed tools to identify secularist and Islamist users, and to examine both the content of their discourse and their network connections. We show how secular and Islamist activists in Egypt were deeply divided and had different revolutionary goals since the early days of the revolution. The method we develop can be used to examine the nature of the opposition in other contexts, as well as to study the relationship between the nature of the opposition and the nature of the regime that follows a revolution. This project is funded through a MINERVA grant.

Revolution and War: Reconsidering the Causes

There is a consensus that revolutionary situations create conditions that lead to international conflict, either because revolutionary governments initiate them, or because they are preemptively attacked by others. This would suggest that the recent revolutions in the Middle East are a threat to international security. I argue that this is not necessarily the case. Revolutions implement different types of transformations in the social, economic, and political institutions that they inherit, which determine both their foreign policies and whether they are perceived as a threat to the interests of other states. Specifically, I argue that radical shifts in political ideology, property ownership, and the relationship between the state and religion are three main factors that lead to an increased likelihood of conflict. I test this argument using an updated dataset from Colgan, 2012. This paper is the first to address both the universe of revolutions and conflict outcomes, and to consider all instances of war, whether they are initiated by revolutionary governments or other states.


Islam versus Islamism: Revising Approaches to the Question of Female Empowerment

Many studies argue that Islam leads to a lower status for women. However, the measure of Islam most often used– the percentage of Muslims in a country – is a poor measure for Islam, while the proposed causes that relate Islam and gender equality remain little understood. I first measure the degree of religiosity in each Muslim majority country by measuring Islamist political mobilization and presence of shari’a law. I then argue that countries with strong Islamist mobilization and presence of shari’a are more likely to restrict women’s role in the economy and politics, but are also more likely to provide lower levels of education and access to health services. I also argue, however, that a government’s commitment to gender reform can counteract some of the negative effects of contemporary Islamist mobilization and thus enhance women’s status. And, in the context of Islamist societies, authoritarian regimes are more capable than democratic ones of implementing such top-down reforms and resisting pressure from Islamist groups.


The Nature of the Revolutionary Movement Determines Revolutionary Outcomes

In this paper I examine the type of regime that is most likely to be instituted after a revolution. I argue that opposition divided along ideological, class, and ethnic lines allows for a return to the previous regime after an initial revolutionary success, whereas a more internally coherent opposition leads to either a more democratic or more authoritarian post-revolutionary regime, depending on ideological content. Specifically, only coherent and inclusive democratic movements result in a democracy, whereas coherent and inclusive movements that espouse other ideologies (such as communism, fascism, and theocracy) result in authoritarian regimes. I am currently finalizing a dataset to test this argument.


OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Has Saudi Arabia Already Won its Yemen War? Monkey Cage/The Washington Post, May 2015

Shifting Balances of Power in Yemen’s Crisis, Monkey Cage/The Washington Post, October 2014

Why We Should no Longer Trust the Words ‘Free and Fair' Foreign Policy, September 2013

Building a Yemeni State While Losing a Nation Foreign Policy, October 2012
Reprinted in “Yemen’s National Dialogue”, Project on Middle East Political Science: Briefing nr. 19, March 2013