An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2016

Multiple but Complementary, Not Conflictual, Leaderships: The Tunisian Democratic Transition in Comparative Perspective

Alfred C. Stepan
View PDF

Many classic studies of leadership focus on strong leadership in the singular. This essay focuses on effective leaderships in the plural. Some of the greatest failures of democratic transitions (Egypt, Syria, Libya) have multiple but highly conflictual leaderships. However, a key lesson in democratization theory is that successful democratic transitions often involve the formation of a powerful coalition, within the opposition, of one-time enemies. This was accomplished in Chile, Spain, and Indonesia. In greater detail, this essay examines Tunisia, the sole reasonably successful democratic transition of the Arab Spring. In all four cases, religious tensions had once figured prominently, yet were safely transcended by the actions of multiple leaders via mutual ideological and religious accommodations, negotiated socioeconomic pacts, and unprecedented political cooperation. A multiplicity of cooperating leaders, rather than a single “strong leader,” produced effective democratic leadership in Tunisia, Indonesia, Spain, and Chile.

ALFRED STEPAN, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1991, is the Wallace Sayre Professor of Government Emeritus at Columbia University. He previously taught at Oxford University and Yale University. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1997. His many works, which have been translated into a dozen languages, include Crafting State Nations (with Juan J. Linz and Yogendra Yadav, 2011), Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (with Juan J. Linz, 1996), Arguing Comparative Politics (2001), and Rethinking Military Politics (1988). He has been to Tunisia six times for his current research on Islam and democracy.