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Working paper

Technological Foundations of Political Instability

Dagaev D., Lamberova N., Sobolev A., Sonin K.
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.