Democratic diffusion and the "Arab Spring"

The wave of protests and democratic reforms (some relatively successful, others failed) that took place across Middle Eastern and Northern African (MENA) countries in 2011 has been known as the "Arab Spring." Many commentators have used the metaphor of a domino to highlight the idea that events in one country were influenced by events in other countries. This interpretation is very plausible and is supported by some academic research, but the evidence is not very strong. Our main goal is to gain more precise insights into this question by looking at how protests and reforms in a given country were perceived in other countries. Specifically, we consider five aspects that shape how events are perceived: opposing groups in a violent context, individual tragedies or achievements, responsibility for causing the protests, religious or moral implications, and economic consequences for individuals, groups, countries, or the whole region. We examine the prevalence of these frames and, especially, how they change over time and as a response to events in other countries. We do this by studying a very large number of newspaper articles with statistical text analysis techniques. The findings will have important practical implications for the assessment of democratization prospects in the MENA region and, more generally, for gaining a better understanding of the role of interdependence and spillovers in international affairs.