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A coercive conundrum


  • Petter Karlsson Söderstrand

Summary, in English

The wave of protests in the Middle East, that started in Tunisia at the end of 2010 and brought about President Ben Ali’s removal from power took the world by storm. The aim of this thesis is to examine the role of the coercive apparatus in the outcome of the uprising, by examining the factors that affected its will and capacity to repress popular mobilisation. The four factors outlined as affecting this are fiscal health, international support networks, level of institutionalisation and level of popular mobilisation. The analysis shows that while the paramilitary units under the command of the Interior Ministry proved willing to engage in lethal repression of protesters, which only stoked further outrage, they did not possess the capacity in numbers to contain protests. The Interior Ministry as a whole was well staffed, but the bulk of its capacity was in intelligence and police rather than in dealing with large crowds. The military, however, may have had the capacity to to repress protesters, but it chose to defect from the regime, refusing to order its troop to fire at protesters. The Tunisian military was highly institutionalised and both economically and politically disenfranchised from the regime, and so its officers were not invested in the survival of the regime. The international attention brought on Tunisia by the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables detailing the corruption of the regime and the large demographic representation of protesters likely made the decision easier. So, in conclusion, the will and capacity of the coercive apparatus to repress had a significant affect on the outcome of the uprising. While the units under the interior ministry largely had the will to repress, they did not possess the capacity to do so in the face of the large crowds. The military however, apparently had the capacity to repress, but chose not to, which further galvanised protesters. Both of these findings had a significant impact on the outcome of the uprising, which resulted in Ben Ali’s removal from office.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Social Sciences


  • Tunisia
  • Revolution
  • Arab Spring
  • Coercive apparatus
  • Ben-Ali
  • Jasmine
  • Authoritarianism


  • Borhan Yassin