Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)


Political Science

Degree Granting Department

Political Science

Major Professor

Harry E. Vanden, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Abdelwahab Hechiche, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jamil E. Jreisat, Ph.D.


Egypt, Grassroots, Horizontalism, Middle East, Syria


Unable to enact change through the existing political institutions of their authoritarian regimes, and consistently repressed by state security forces (the mukhabarat), activists in Egypt and Syria relied on street activism to challenge their conditions. This study analyzes the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Syria through the conceptual lens of a rhizome. Rhizomatic movements are horizontal, grassroots, and allow for the networking of local community-specific grievances, into larger national movements. This networking allows opposition members groups to build solidarity, construct collective identities, and develop a set of shared goals, strategies, and tactics. Furthermore, it provides for the transcendence of existing societal divides (such as religious, ideological, political, socio-cultural, and class), allowing participants to unite as a single force. Since a rhizome is horizontal and lacks a fixed structure, they are significantly more difficult to dismantle, as there is not a set leadership or hierarchy to target. Importantly, this rhizomatic logic integrates itself within the notion of viewing movements within larger cycles of protest or waves of contention. Rhizomatic movements are built through the praxis of networking, rather than through ideological networking. As such, the conditions and history of opposition movements provides important analytical considerations. This study, using process tracing, argues that the Egyptian revolution was rhizomatic in nature and thus able to pose a significant enough force to challenge Mubarak's regime. Although faced with brutal repression, activists remained coordinated, interconnected, and continued to mobilize. Conversely, the Syrian opposition, plagued by years of in-fighting among activists, was unable to develop as a rhizomatic force. Activists failed to sufficiently network, build collective identities, and develop common tactics. This hindered their ability to appeal to and mobilize large segments of the population that were discontent with Assad but still viewed him as the best option for their own interests. When faced with systematic suppression by Assad's regime, the opposition faltered, returning to their own respective individual self-interests and goals, allowing the regime to fragment their attempts at mobilization.