Democracy Paradox
Democracy Paradox
Mar 16, 2021
Elizabeth Nugent on Polarization, Democratization and the Arab Spring
Play • 52 min

The focus on the individual people involved in this moment and their preexisting relationships for me is a new way of thinking about democratic transitions. Because I think we see how much these personal relationships and personal histories matter for whether or not they can make these really big, important decisions at a moment of very high stress, very little information.

Elizabeth Nugent

A full transcript is available at

Elizabeth Nugent believes political polarization derailed Egyptian democratization, while the lack of severe polarization has allowed Tunisian democracy to survive. But what makes her work remarkable is she argues Egyptian polarization was the outcome of targeted repression under authoritarian rule. At the same time, Tunisia avoided polarization because repression was more widespread. Stop and think about this for a moment. Tunisian democracy succeeds today because of a legacy of widespread, indiscriminate repression. It affected everyone so opposition groups learned to work together and even sympathized with one another. 

This is a truly counterintuitive insight. But it makes so much sense at the same time. Liz Nugent’s new book is After Repression: How Polarization Derails Democratic Transition. She is an assistant professor at Yale University with a focus on Middle Eastern politics. Her book uses the cases of Egypt and Tunisia to explain her ideas, but her thoughts on polarization will make waves as they are used in other contexts. 

Our conversation discusses Tunisia and Egypt. We also talk about how polarization affects democratization. But I find it most interesting how Liz emphasizes the political process requires real relationships with real people. She reminds us a very human element is necessary for democracy and democratization. 

More Information

Democracy Group

Apes of the State created all Music

Democracy in Danger

Key Links

Elizabeth Nugent's Home Page

After Repression: How Polarization Derails Democratic Transition

Yale MacMillan Center Council on Middle East Studies

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