Whereas optimists see the so-called Arab Spring as similar to the revolutions of 1989, and likely to bring about democratic rule, skeptics fear that protest bringing down dictators may simply give way to new dictatorships, as in the Iranian revolution. Existing research on transitions has largely neglected the role of protest and direct action in destabilizing autocracies and promoting democracy. We argue that protest and direct action can promote transitions in autocracies, and that the mode of direct action, that is, whether violent or nonviolent, has a major impact on the prospects for autocratic survival and democracy. We present empirical results supporting our claim that nonviolent protests substantially increase the likelihood of transitions to democracy, especially under favorable international environments, while violent direct action is less effective in undermining autocracies overall, and makes transitions to new autocracies relatively more likely.
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