Why do some militaries support and others thwart transitions to democracy? After the Arab Spring revolutions, why did Egypt's military stage a coup to end the transition? Conversely, why did Tunisia's military initially support the transition, only to later facilitate the elected president's dismantling of democracy?

This book argues that a military’s behavior under democracy is shaped by how it had been treated under autocracy. Autocrats who had empowered their militaries, securing their loyalty through a share of power and wealth, create militaries who fear that democratization will encroach on their privileges. Empowered militaries are thus more likely to repress pro-democracy uprisings, and if that fails, to stage coups against new democracies. Where autocrats had instead marginalized their militaries, democratization is considerably easier. Yet, marginalized militaries still carry risks of their own, being less able to prevent a descent into civil war, and more easily coopted into incumbent takeovers. In short, the dictator’s choice to either empower or marginalize the military creates legacies that shape the likelihood of democratization and the forms by which it breaks down.

This book illustrates this theory through detailed case studies of Egypt and Tunisia, drawing on over 140 interviews with civilian and military leaders and three surveys of military personnel. It also probes the generalizability of the theory through a cross-national analysis of all countries between 1946-2010. Overall, the book brings the military front and center to the study of democratic transition and consolidation.

Sharan Grewal is a residential research fellow with the Middle East Initiative for the 2023 - 2024 academic year. He is also an Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He received a PhD in Politics from Princeton University in 2018, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Brookings from 2018-19.

Sharan’s research examines revolutions and democratic transitions in the Arab world. His first book, Soldiers of Democracy? (Oxford University Press, July 2023), explores the conditions under which militaries support or thwart democratic transitions. Sharan’s work has also been published in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and British Journal of Political Science, among other journals. His work has won Best Paper Awards from APSA’s Democracy & Autocracy section and from APSA’s Middle East and North Africa section, as well as the Perry World House-Foreign Affairs Emerging Scholars Prize.

Sharan’s research has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. He writes regularly for Brookings, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, POMED, and the Carnegie Endowment, and has been interviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Reuters, among others.