The early decades of the twenty-first century will be remembered as a critical period in the long-term trend, characteristic of the twentieth century, towards the increasing spread of democracy worldwide. From the Arab Spring countries of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen to the turbulent yet progressing transition from military rule in Myanmar, social mobilisation against autocratic, corrupt or military regimes has precipitated political transitions that are characteristic of transitions from authoritarian rule, or ‘democratisation’.1 As in the previous century’s experiences of countries transitioning from authoritarian rule toward presumably more inclusive democracy, the 2000s’ sweeping political and social change is turbulent, unpredictable, fraught with violence and rife with crises, reversals and halting change as old orders are resistant and new social contracts between citizen and state often remain elusive. Not all transitions away from authoritarian rule lead automatically, or quickly, to democracy. Like earlier ‘waves’ and country-specific processes of democratisation, such as the short-lived but critical Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Revolution of the Carnations in Portugal in 1974, or the now celebrated (yet quite violent) transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa in 1994, today’s transitions are perplexing. Are early twenty-first century countries-inturmoil in a long and difficult but inexorable transition toward democracy, or are today’s experiences somehow unique and different and requiring of new explanations and theories? A body of scholarly literature and practitioner reflection known as ‘transitology’ – a literature that explores the factors that lead to the demise of autocracy, the turbulent pathways of change and the choice for an eventual consolidation of democracy – explores precisely these processes. However, its application to current cases seems at best uneasy.2 Some have argued that the contemporary transitions are not moving in the direction of democracy and that civil war or reversion to authoritarianism is likely across the board, that the ‘door is closing’3 on even the latest moment of democratisation. In our view, in examining political liberalisation attempts that have been taking place in recent years – notably those leading up to and in the wake of the Arab Spring –dominant perspectives have exhibited a conspicuous absence of the literature on transitions to democracy over the past forty or so years. The combined effect of the emphasis on

narrow regional narratives and immediate political dynamics has stripped the understanding of a new generation of political transitions of a deeper background of transitology which carries much relevance, albeit one in need of updating in the light of recent cases. This book features contributions by scholars of democracy and democratisation processes from around the world that reopen, and revive, transitology theory and its related debates. The chapters in these pages, written by political liberalisation specialists, tackle the series of questions raised by a body of literature that remains highly useful to understanding contemporary political turbulence and transformation. Together, they seek to take the debate on transition into the next generation by establishing a link with past experiences and analyses. Against the background of the first phase of transitology, a number of interrogations arise today. Can democratisation processes be studied regardless of whether they actually arrive at a consolidated democracy as an outcome? Can political and socio-economic transitions be systematised beyond their own contexts and specificities? What are the implications for international democracybuilding assistance? Are transitions universal or area specific? Where do transitions fit in the overall picture of political transformation? The turbulence that followed the Arab Spring of late 2010 and early 2011 marked a new phase of socio-economic and political transformation in the Middle East and North Africa. The notion of an ‘Arab Spring’4 harkened back both to the 1848 People’s Spring and to the Prague Spring reform movement of 1968 – the latter an ultimately ill-fated attempt to use social movement protests to topple an authoritarian regime. The Prague Spring, it should be recalled, was indeed a period of short-lived liberalisation and not full democratisation. Soviet forces invaded to halt the reforms in August 1968 and democracy, now seemingly consolidated, did not fully come to the Czech and Slovak republics until the early 1990s.5