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Contentious Politics in the Courthouse: Law as a Tool for Resisting Authoritarian States in the Middle East

Law & Society Review

Published online on


["Law & Society Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, Page 139-176, March 2021. ", "\nUnder what conditions will individuals mobilize law to resist states that operate above the law? In authoritarian countries, particularly in the Middle East, law is a weapon the state wields for social control, centralizing power, and legitimation. Authoritarian legal codes are overwhelmingly more deferential to state authority than protective of citizens' rights. Nevertheless, people throughout the Arab world deploy law to contest a broad array of state abuses: land expropriations, unlawful arrests, denials of jobs and welfare, and so on. Using detailed interviews in Jordan and Palestine, I outline a theory of law as a tool for resisting authoritarian state actors. Integrating qualitative insights with survey experiments fielded in Egypt and Jordan, I test this theory and show that aggrieved individuals mobilize law when they expect courts are powerful and attainable allies in contentious politics. My results further demonstrate that judicial independence does not uniformly increase authoritarian publics' willingness to access courts.\n"]