By Joy Mopeli Photos by Gensuke Hara
Dr. Hesham Sallam giving a talk to students at Occidental College.

On Monday, April 8th, the Young Initiative at Occidental College hosted a talk by Dr. Hesham Sallam from the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University. 

“The interconnected network of authorization rulers is inspiring a similar collective, globalist response.” 

On Monday, April 8th, Dr Hesham Sallam provided a captivating presentation about the challenges of authoritarian opposition in the Arab world at Occidental College. An erudite scholar of political and social development in this region, Dr. Sallam serves as a Senior Research Scholar and Associate Director for Research at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL). He is also co-editor of Jadaliyya ezine and Associate Director of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy. The discussion addressed overlooked assessments of political change in the Arab region following a resurgence of authoritarian leaders since the Arab Spring in 2011, often referred to as an 'Arab Winter.'

Dr. Sallam contextualized the discussion by outlining regime survival strategies following the Arab Spring. He began, by discussing the closure and preeminent repression of resistance. In 2021, Egypt was ranked 3rd higher jailor of journalists after China and Myanmar. The closure of political space after 2013 is emphasized by the staggering 60, 000 Egyptian political prisoners. Addressing transnational repression and the decline of "liberalized autocracies," Dr. Sallam noted that leaders no longer feign democratization. Instead, regimes embrace centralized and personalized power, illustrated by cults of personality around leaders like ISIS’'s self-proclaimed caliph and in populist drifts such as Tunisia's President Kais Saied. In Saudi Arabia, the concentration of power within the ruling family reflects a move towards personalized authoritarianism centered on figures like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

Still, Dr. Sallam highlights Sudan as one of many cases signifying an end to this ‘Arab Winter.’ “Sudan is a pragmatic example of a learning curve,” Dr. Sallam stated. The ongoing civilian struggle that began with the 2019 uprising demonstrates increased synergy among regional actors. Notably, there is a growing transnational solidarity online also evident on the ground. In Sudan, banners stated “Either victory or the Egypt way.” He emphasized connecting these movements to broader global struggles, including the Palestinian liberation movement and Black Lives Matter. Additionally, drawing lessons from revolutions in Lebanon and Iraq targeting state corruption and autocracy.

Dr. Sallam emphasized the importance of not perceiving our approach to engaging with political systems as static. He argued autocrats are changing and adapting with time, highlighting the dynamic nature of resistance. As authoritarian governments overstate their public trust, they inadvertently create spaces for civilian mobilization. Dr. Sallam concluded the event by saying people continue to imagine a more just, inclusive, and equitable reality is in reach, so despite its challenges, the Arab world is not devoid of hope and change. 

Contact the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Political Economy
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