Başak Taraktaş

Ph.D. Student in Comparative Politics

Dissertation Title: Making Autocrats Accountable: Interests, Commitments, and Cooperation for Regime Change

Committee: Julia Lynch, Rudra Sil, Yuhua Wang, Ian Lustick, Bruce Desmarais 

Summary: My dissertation examines the conditions under which opposition groups to authoritarian regimes are able to cooperate to successfully engineer regime change. Using the cases of transitions from absolute to constitutional monarchy in the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdülhamid II and Bourbon France, I analyze the role of ideologies and strategies on actors’ cooperative behavior. Specifically, I examine the extent to which strategic and ideological commitments affect challengers’ decisions to cooperate with one another for regime change. Contra traditional explanations –which argue that common interest in overthrowing authoritarianism should unite opposition groups, my research shows that cooperation for regime change is not about whether interests in overthrowing authoritarianism overlap or not; it is a coordination problem with conflicting interests. Among challenger groups –all of which desire to overthrow authoritarianism and democratize the regime– cooperation often breaks down due to disagreements on how transition should be carried out and what the future regime and society should look like. Coordination problems are difficult to solve, especially if challengers face irreconcilable ideological and strategic differences, such as whether revolution is an acceptable means of regime change or whether the state should intervene in the economy. Using historical analysis in combination with longitudinal network analysis, I show that cooperation becomes more likely if challengers converge on a particular transition strategy. Findings from the network analysis reveal that convergence happens around the actor that is strongly committed to that strategy and attracts others that also adopt the same strategy but not necessarily the same ideologies. Once strategic convergence happens, challengers become more likely to form an internally consistent oppositional movement that is capable of overthrowing the authoritarian regime.

My findings rely on original datasets of Ottoman and French anti-governmental actors that contain information on up to 46 groups, their membership, goals, aims, and cooperation patterns, which I constructed using extensive archival and historiographical work. I paired the Ottoman and French transitions, two cases from different geographic areas and time periods, in order to minimize contextual similarities, which might otherwise account for similar outcomes, and give variation to the type and strength of commitments. French and Ottoman authoritarianisms built on an imperial legacy, briefly liberalized, turned authoritarian, and fell by a rapid revolution. They varied on the nature of authoritarianism and societal context. Also, Ottoman actors had stronger commitments to strategies, whereas French actors had stronger commitments to ideologies. 

Evidence from the French and Ottoman cases point at a common pattern. Initially, in both cases, opposition groups that wanted to replace the regime were disunited due to differences on certain strategic and ideological issues. Authoritarian retrenchment enhanced actors’ perception of urgency, whereby actors eliminated inefficient strategies and began cooperating with the group that was committed to efficient strategies. In this process, ideological agreement on some issues facilitated cooperation but agreement on all issues was not necessary. In the Ottoman case, authoritarian entrenchment diminished the perceived importance of the role of religion in politics and whether to cooperate with secessionist groups, while actors agreed to carry out a revolution without foreign sponsorship. In France, groups sidelined their commitments to the use of violence as a transition strategy and agreed on using conventional means of regime contention to extend suffrage and establish checks and balances. Strategic convergence was central to the emergence of a unified oppositional movement in both cases. In France, an oppositional movement took shape around the independents, which attracted both leftwing and rightwing challengers after committing to not using violence. In the Ottoman case, certain ideologies became defunct (i.e., Ottomanism) and others gained salience (i.e., nationalism). Nevertheless, unification happened around the Committee of Progress and Union (CPU) and not another nationalist group, because the CPU had already committed to carrying out a coup without foreign assistance. Thus, even after controlling for ideological similarities, it was the strategic convergence that enabled challengers to unite. In the third stage, a shock–political crisis– induced the now-unified oppositional movement to take action. In the Ottoman Empire, constitutional monarchy was restored in three weeks. In France, the authoritarian regime¬ crumbled in three days. Overall, evidence conveys that strategic convergence is an important level of sustained coordination that differs from tactical cooperation because it is evident in iterated moves, with actors agreeing -despite their divergent ideologies- to repeatedly bring pressure to bear on the old regime using similar methods. 

University of Pennsylvania
208 S. 37th Street, Room 217
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Anne Norton Chair
Matthew Levendusky Graduate Chair
Marc Meredith Undergraduate Chair