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Kroc Institute fellow discusses Arab Spring research

Christian Myers | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will Moore, a visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute and Florida State University professor of political science, addressed the shortcomings of popular perspectives on the events of the Arab Spring.

He revisited the dissent and revolutions in the Middle East on Tuesday during the lecture “Dissent, Repression and Outcomes of the Arab Spring.”

“Conventional Arab Spring narratives are unpersuasive because they don’t focus on outcomes,” he said. “These narratives also have a very strong ‘blame the victim’ approach, which is ahistorical.”

Moore said there should be a focus on the behavior and interactions of dissidents and states. He discussed 24 instances of mass protests in four different countries — Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Syria — since 1990 and said it was significant that only one of those protests resulted in a victory for the dissidents.

“Unless you start paying attention to the interaction of states and dissidents, you can’t understand the outcomes,” he said.

Moore outlined the research methodology and theoretical approach for his current project, which will supply the content for an eventual book on the subject.

“I don’t yet have the answers to the questions I’m addressing. I’m going to be laying out how I’ve designed a research project,” he said.

Eventually, the project will include case studies for every country in the entire Middle East and North Africa, as well as further analyses for the period of 1990 to 2011, Moore said. Currently, he is focused on 10 countries in particular and only has access to data from 1990 to 2004.

“During this time and in all of these countries, dissidents and states are interacting. In every single one of these 10 nations, there is a long history of people challenging government and government responding in kind,” Moore said.

During the lecture, Moore displayed a graph of dissident and state activity in each of the 10 countries and pointed out that some, such as Tunisia, stood out as having less dissident activity. The data came from a database of news reports, he said.

“Something I have to consider is whether there is less news coverage or actually less dissident activity,” he said.

Moore said he intends to evaluate the behavior of two actors, the state and the dissidents, along a Hostility-Cooperation Continuum.

He said the continuum shows how one side responds to the behavior of the other and how both the desire to stay in power and the influence of constituents are important in determining this behavior.

“If you’re halfway up the hostility scale, my people want me slightly … more hostile than you,” Moore said.

Moore said the continuum allows him to estimate the average behavior when the other actor does nothing. For example, the state will be very cooperative on average when the dissidents do nothing.

He said he can also estimate the average responsiveness to surprise for each actor, though his calculations do not differentiate between hostile and cooperative responses to surprises.

Moore said his current data reveals interesting patterns, but he has not analyzed the set thoroughly enough to draw any conclusions.

“I haven’t delved into how much I can trust these particular estimates,” he said. “I’m showing you a flavor of what I’m going to be able to do,”

Moore said his project might not lead to the kind of results he hopes for, but he believes it addresses something existing literature is missing.

“Does this project that I’ve launched give me any leverage? It’s possible I’ll strike out,” he said. “I’ve argued existing scholarship ignores behavior and limits our ability to understand and answer important questions. The missing objective of inquiry is the behavior of dissidents and states.”