Conceptual Reflections on Boycott: Understanding and Interpreting Boycotts in the Arab World

Michael Schmidmayr
1.612 609


Over the past decades, the Arab polities have witnessed some degree of political opening and the enhancement, the reactivation or the mere creation formal political institutions. This clearly forms part of the incumbents' endeavour to stabilise their authoritarian power through re-legitimization patterns. While many political activists'both from the regime-loyal and the opposition side'have been tempted to play by the new rules, others occasionally decide to stay away from that new formal arena of political engagement, preferring to concentrate on alternative patterns. However, rather than a mere black-and-white picture, political activity can also oscillate between formal and informal mechanisms, partly accepting the system's rules while rejecting some other elements. A specific tool used in this middle-course strategy is the device of boycott, which has been amply used in Middle Eastern polities in the past. Boycott both addresses the incumbents and the boycotters' constituencies and potential supporters. While it is certainly used as a tool of political bargaining with the incumbents, it also serves the purpose of upholding support from constituencies and international actors. Despite the amplitude of the phenomenon, however, literature on boycott within authoritarian regimes remains slender; the present study therefore seeks to add some conceptual reflections. This is attempted by conceptualizing the rationales involved and deepening our understanding of what motivates opposition activists to boycott elections, but also by categorizing the different forms of boycott.


Boycott, Arab World, parliamentary boycotts, election boycotts, informal politics

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