Who Participates in Democratic Revolutions? A Comparison of the Egyptian and Tunisian Revolutions
This paper uses highly unusual, individual-level data on protest participation in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions to evaluate the leading causal theories behind the Arab Spring (and democratic revolutions, more generally) by connecting a representative sample of the population involved in protest activism with the conditions impelling their participation. It does so by evaluating a series of hypotheses about who should be expected to participate in these revolutions if specific theoretical explanations hold true. After establishing the patterns of who participated, we compare them with those of another democratic revolution outside the region — the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The paper also investigates who among the participants in these revolutions prioritized civil and political rights over other ends (i.e., constituted the “democratic vanguard” within these revolutions). We find that explanations emphasizing value change, secularization, and absolute material deprivation are wanting. Protesters in both Egypt and Tunisia were predominantly males of middle class occupational and income profiles, and at least as religious as other members of their societies. The evidence also shows that most participants were motivated primarily by economic demands (and to a lesser extent, corruption), not by desires for civil and political freedoms. Those most likely to champion democratic values within these revolutions were not youth, the educated, or the middle class, but those involved in civil society associations. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for our understanding of democratization and democratic revolution and for the challenges posed by the nature of democratic revolutionary coalitions for post-revolutionary governments.