Legitimation, regime survival, and shifting alliances in the Arab League: Explaining sanction politics during the Arab Spring

Maria Josepha Debre*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The Arab Spring marks a puzzling shift in the sanction politics of the Arab League: for the first time, the Arab League suspended member states for matters of internal affairs by majority vote. This article argues that survival politics can explain the changing sanction politics of the Arab League. To re-legitimize rule during this unprecedented moment, member states selectively supported some protest movements to signal their understanding of public demands for change without committing to domestic reform. Contrasting case studies of the Arab League's suspension of Libya and Syria and its simultaneous support for military intervention against protestors in Bahrain illustrate how concerns for regime legitimation and a short-lived alliance between Saudi Arabia and Qatar contributed to the sanctioning decisions. The Arab League can thus be considered a case of negative democracy protection, where regional sanctions are employed to selectively preserve authoritarian rule.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0192512120937749
Pages (from-to)516-530
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Political Science Review
Issue number4
Early online date6 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • International sanctions
  • Arab League
  • Arab Spring
  • survival politics
  • legitimation
  • Regional Organizations
  • END

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