in: Democratization 22: 3, 496-518.
In studies of political transition, scholars started to explore the effect of competition between foreign policies of antipodal regimes on the political trajectories of transition countries, notably between traditional Western donors such as the European Union and the United States of America and regional authoritarian powers such as Saudi Arabia. Drawing on existing accounts, this article studies the conditions under which external actors can effectively steer local elite towards democratic reforms despite illiberal regional powers’ potential counteractions. We argue that the reform-oriented political elites in the recipient country are the ultimate judges in this competition for influence. If democracy promotion is credible, they will decide in favour of democratization, but only if the expected costs and benefits of democratic engagement resist solicitation by authoritarian powers. A study of post-Arab Spring democracy promotion in Tunisia supports the pivotal role of the external donors’ credibility in times of complex donor constellations.
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