Cycles of peaceful protest are ubiquitous in liberalizing autocracies. Protest in these hybrid regimes sometimes may lead to democratization but others to insurgency and civil war. In this talk I will explore the conditions under which social protest may lead to armed insurgency. My focus is on the governance strategies incumbents in electoral autocracies choose in response to major policy shocks (e.g. economic crises or unpopular policy shifts) and on the conditions for rebel recruitment. I argue that when incumbents give up on any material concessions to dissident groups and withdraw fundamental rights granted in the phase of liberalization, signaling a likely reversion to a punitive status quo ante, they provide incentives for radicalization. In this context of reversal threat, however, protest becomes rebellion only where rebel recruitment is possible. Recruitment is more likely where social movements are structured as decentralized organizations with multiple local leadership structures supported by dense local associational networks and where the presence of the state security forces is limited.
Guillermo Trejo is a professor of political science at Duke University. His research interests include Comparative Politics, Behavior and Identities, Security, Peace, and Conflict, and Political Institutions.