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Autonomous Activism and Accountability in a Democratic Transition: Evidence from Tunisia

McCarthy, Rory

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How do citizens in the Arab world hold their governments to account between elections? Diagonal accountability mechanisms in the literature show how citizens can constrain executive power by imposing reputational costs, by using legal action, or through watchdog oversight. However, citizen mobilizations in the Arab world are often autonomous, reflecting low political trust and ineffective political parties and therefore weakening potential accountability mechanisms. This article uses a structured, focused comparison of protest episodes during the Tunisian transition to theorize three alternative mechanisms used in autonomous mobilizations. Autonomous movements develop legitimacy for their claims by reinterpreting initial grievances as legitimate claims for greater popular participation in decision-making. Although these movements all insist on their independence from parties and unions, they develop temporary and expedient alliances with political actors for greater leverage. When movements have sufficient local resources, they try to establish lasting collective capacities to demonstrate alternative models of development. These findings contribute to a richer understanding of the varied mechanisms behind accountability processes in new democracies by showing how autonomous movements deploy alternative strategies to shape the quality of their emerging democratic system.


McCarthy, R. (2023). Autonomous Activism and Accountability in a Democratic Transition: Evidence from Tunisia. Democratization, 30(5), 875-893.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 14, 2023
Online Publication Date Apr 5, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Mar 17, 2023
Publicly Available Date Apr 6, 2023
Journal Democratization
Print ISSN 1351-0347
Electronic ISSN 1743-890X
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 5
Pages 875-893


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Copyright Statement
&copy; 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor &amp; Francis Group<br /> This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.

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