Divided we Stand, but United we Oppose? Opposition Alliances in Egypt and Pakistan

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2008-12-15

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Why are opposition groups able to form alliances in their activism against the regime in some cases but not in others? Specifically, why did opposition groups in Pakistan engage in high levels of alliance building, regardless of ideological and other divides, while similar alliance patterns did not emerge in Egypt? I explain alliances among various opposition groups in Egypt and Pakistan as a result of two factors - the nature of group constituencies and the nature of the alliance. I argue that constituencies can be characterized as two kinds: Divided and Fluid. Under divided constituencies, different opposition groups receive consistent support from specific sections of the population. Under fluid constituencies, opposition groups have no consistent basis for support. Alliances can be of two kinds, Mobilization or Elite. Mobilization alliances are formed among two or more groups to bring constituents together to engage in collective action, for example, protest, sit-in or civil disobedience. Elite alliances are formed among group leaders to express grievances and/ or find solutions to issues without engaging their constituents in street politics. Groups may work together on an issue-based or value-based concern. Issue-based concerns focus on a specific aspect of the grievance being raised. For example, a law that imposes censorship on the press. Value-based concerns have a broader focus, for example media freedom. Mobilization alliances emerge among political groups that have divided constituencies and are unlikely among political groups that have fluid constituencies. Since a joint mobilization event requires groups to pool their supporters, groups with fluid constituencies fear that their participation will provide their partners with a perfect opportunity to make themselves visible to their support base and engage in "member poaching." While groups with fluid constituencies are unable to form mobilization alliances, they are able to form issue-based elite alliances. Groups with divided constituencies are likely to form elite alliances on both issue-based and value-based concerns. Since elite alliances do not require groups to pool their constituents, groups with fluid constituencies have few concerns about "member poaching." However, when formed to address a value-based concern, such alliances can easily lead to mobilization in the future, especially when the concern is broad and sensitive. For this reason, groups with fluid constituencies may form issue-based elite alliances.Groups with divided constituencies often form elite alliances when they are unable to engage in mobilization because of material or other constraints. Since they do not share the same concerns about mobilization in the future, groups with divided constituencies may form both issue-based and value-based elite alliances. I conduct a detailed comparative case study of alliances in Egypt and Pakistan during 1995-2005 to show how the nature of the constituency and the nature of the alliance influenced alliances outcomes.

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