Journal Article - Middle East Journal

How Do Liberalized Autocracies Repress Dissent?

| Summer 2021


The Moroccan regime has used repression to successfully contain numerous types of opposition. Although research on its repressive policies is now extensive, impartial scholarly work that systematically examines its rational use of repression remains limited. This article addresses this gap by investigating the causal mechanisms behind the regime's repression of opposition actors between 1956 and 2018. Examining these mechanisms sheds light on the multilevel games between ruling actors and opposition groups during various opposition events and shows that liberalization does not ensure the reduced use of repression. Rather, repression remains a strategic policy employed by the regime to pursue important political objectives such as maintaining power.


We may expect dictators to use repression to a lesser extent once they have introduced reforms. Yet authoritarian regimes continue to use repression long after they have liberalized. Importantly, despite its high costs, dictators resort to repression to avoid losing power and ensure that their concessions are accepted by unsatisfied opposition actors.1

This article provides new insights into how and why a liberalized autocracy—a dictatorship that has undergone several waves of liberalizing reforms2—represses its opposition. The findings suggest that the Moroccan regime consistently uses repression when other tactics have not succeeded in containing a given threat or when an initial threat is so high that it could lead to total or significant loss of power. The regime combines repression and some form of concessions (monetary, political, or both) when facing a medium-level threat that would constrain its powers. Finally, it uses repression sparingly, if at all, when the threat of losing power is low.

Identifying a long-term pattern of strategic repression in Morocco is important, first, because understanding the conditions under which the regime represses opposition actors definitively shows that liberalization does not lead a regime to become less repressive. Second, identifying such a pattern highlights the strategic nature of regime repression and the multilevel games between dictators and opposition groups, thereby challenging the perception that regimes repress in a spontaneous or unidimensional manner.3 Finally, it opens the door for future study by providing data that can be used in comparative research on the region.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Abouzzohour, Yasmina. How Do Liberalized Autocracies Repress Dissent?.” Middle East Journal, (Summer 2021) .

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