In This Review

After Repression: How Polarization Derails Democratic Transition
After Repression: How Polarization Derails Democratic Transition
By Elizabeth R. Nugent
Princeton University Press, 2020, 256 pp

Hiding behind this monograph’s generic title and sometimes masked by its scholarly rhetoric is a fascinating and provocative argument about why the Egyptian and Tunisian transitions took such different paths after the uprisings of 2010–11. Nugent argues persuasively that the different patterns of repression of the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia shaped the capacity and inclination of the various parts of the opposition movements to work together. The Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s selectively brutal targeting of the Muslim Brotherhood, his government’s relative leniency toward left-wing and other secularist political parties and movements, and the political segregation of the courts and the prison system divided the opposition and made it difficult for ideological adversaries to cooperate after Mubarak’s fall. By contrast, the Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s indiscriminate repression of opposition across the ideological spectrum provided opportunities, long before the uprising, for diverse political movements to collaborate, which produced the unusual levels of trust and teamwork exhibited by the political leadership that took over after Ben Ali’s departure. Particularly poignant are the accounts of former political prisoners in Tunisia who recall with respect and affection having shared cells—and long conversations—with ideological rivals. Across the Middle East, prison is one of the most important universities; Nugent shows how critical the quality of those schools is for the political elites who are their graduates.