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Authoritarian Institutions as Objects of Contestation: Challenges to State Corporatism in Egypt Open Access

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When do previously co-opted groups in authoritarian regimes challenge the terms of their relationship to the state by creating alternative representative institutions? Exit is particularly puzzling from a rational perspective as it involves significant risk in a constrained political environment and uncertain benefits. While the literature on authoritarian regimes explores co-optation from a regime-perspective, and mostly treats authoritarian institutions as instruments of control, this dissertation contributes to that literature by examining authoritarian institutions as objects of contestation.This dissertation explores this question by examining how historically co-opted groups, such as workers, challenged the state's hold on workers' representation, thereby eroding corporatist institutions in Egypt. Almost two years before Mubarak's ouster, workers began contesting this system by creating alternative representative institutions. This struggle has only intensified in the transition from authoritarian rule. Paradoxically, I find that the state's ability to penetrate the official union structure instigates, rather than contains, efforts to challenge that structure. I also find that a group's long history of activism conditions its relationship to the state and constrains its ability to challenge existing corporatist structures. In addition, certain groups may have more financial incentives than others to remain tethered to status-quo institutions. Finally, incorporating insights from social movement theory and sociology, I argue that politically savvy leaders play a crucial role in advancing such challenges by drawing on the support of outside networks and presenting convincing frames to rank and file members.This dissertation is inspired by an effort to understand both the day-to-day workings of authoritarian rule as well as the ways in which seemingly stable authoritarian institutions begin to break down. In doing so, it seeks to contribute to current efforts to reevaluate the premises of the authoritarian resilience literature, especially with regards to the exclusive focus on systemic stability and the tendency to view political institutions and changes to them as serving a function for regime stability. It does so by moving beyond this literature's tendency to be overly reactive to the seemingly inevitable realities of the moment. When authoritarian regimes appeared stable, scholarship focused on explaining their resilience; when some authoritarian regimes tottered and fell, scholarship raced to the precise opposite focus on the fragility of these regimes. We need to develop an understanding of authoritarianism that can help us understand changes within authoritarian regimes, changes of authoritarian regimes, and authoritarian continuity. This task cannot be accomplished solely by focusing on regime strategies; we need to return a measure of agency, however constrained, to social actors.

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