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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Authoritarian Learning, Regional Diffusion, and Domestic Factors: How Egypt and Uzbekistan Seek to Legitimize Repression

Comparative Politics
Mirjam Edel
Universität Tübingen
Mirjam Edel
Universität Tübingen
Maria Josua
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

The increasing dominance of human rights discourses and the international and regional diffusion of repressive tactics and their discursive justifications may have induced changes, probably also learning processes, in authoritarian regimes’ legitimation discourses. It is well established that authoritarian and democratic governments alike seek to be regarded as legitimately holding power. But they are also interested in presenting the state’s exertion of force as legitimate. In some instances, repression as such may even serve the purpose of preserving and creating legitimacy. Although state repression is often depicted as the opposite of legitimation, coercive actions can also have the function of generating legitimacy in the eyes of certain parts of the population. While state repression is not in decline, the question arises whether its discursive framing has changed in recent years, and if so, how and why.

This paper presents a conceptualization of the suggested links between legitimation and repression. Based on the integration of research findings from recent authoritarianism studies, including its international dimensions, with insights from conflict studies, especially framing theory, we identify two important aspects of this mechanism: First, different types of repression justification can be distinguished along the dimensions of content and structure. Second, the main reason why the legitimation of repression may be successful lies in the different (domestic and international) target groups of repression and legitimation. We examine the link between legitimation and repression by comparing two authoritarian regimes – Egypt and Uzbekistan – both synchronically and diachronically. First, we look at current repressive policies together with their justification. After presenting the frames that regime elites have recently used to legitimize the repression of domestic Islamist movements, we contrast these findings with the legitimation discourse concerning other targets of repression as well as with the repression of Islamists in former times. The second part of the empirical analysis investigates whether beyond endogenous factors the justification of the repressive policy is a result of international or regional influences. The mechanism at work could be diffusion, lesson-drawing or learning.
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