Political polarization can complicate democratization, but the process through which political polarization occurs under repressive conditions is undertheorized. Drawing on psychological theories of social identity, I will argue that the nature of repression drives polarization under authoritarianism. Repression alters group identities, changing the perceived distance between groups and ultimately shaping the level of affective and preference polarization between them through differentiation processes. This psychological mechanism is reinforced by the social and organizational effects of repression. In turn, polarization, as conditioned by repression, alters the likelihood of the cooperative behaviour among opposition actors necessary for the success of democratic transitions. I support my argument using mixed-method data and analysis, including in-depth case-study evidence of polarization between political opposition groups that were differently repressed in Egypt and Tunisia (with implications for each country's democratic transition after the Arab Spring uprisings) and a laboratory experiment which reinforces these findings.
Elizabeth Nugent is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Yale and researches and teaches on the psychology of political behaviour in the Middle East, with a further focus on the effects of religion and repression. She received her doctorate in politics from Princeton University with a specialization in comparative politics and a focus on the Middle East and holds a B.A. in Arabic and an M.A. in Arab Studies, both from Georgetown University. Dr Nugent was previously a postdoctoral research fellow with the Middle East Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She served as an AY2007-2008 Fulbright Fellow in Cairo, Egypt and has conducted fieldwork for a variety of projects in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Her work has been published in academic venues including American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and World Politics, as well as in The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. Her first book, After Repression: How Polarization Derails Democratic Transition, was published in 2020 by Princeton University Press.
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