DP9787 Technological Foundations of Political Instability

Author(s): Dmitry Dagaev, Natalia Lamberova, Anton Sobolev, Konstantin Sonin
Publication Date: December 2013
Keyword(s): Arab Spring, autocracy, collective action, regime change, social media
JEL(s): C42, D74, L96
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=9787

There has been a wide-spread belief that elections with a wide franchise following removal of an oppressive dictator lead to establishment of a government that is not vulnerable to mass protest. At the same time, most of the post-World War II non-constitutional exits of recently-installed autocratic leaders were caused by elite coups, rather than popular protests. The recent experience of Egypt, where the democratic post-Mubarak government, a result of the Arab Spring, collapsed after having had almost uninterrupted protests since its first day in office, offers a striking counterexample to both of these patterns. We demonstrate that this is a general phenomenon: the same technological shock, arrival of social media, that makes the incumbent vulnerable, lays foundation for continuous instability of the subsequent democratic government. Our theoretical model, which incorporates protest into a Downsian framework, takes into account specific features of modern protests: the significant role of social media and the absence of the partisan or personalized leadership during popular unrest. Case studies of the Arab countries with and without large-scale protests corroborate our theoretical findings.