The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt created a contagion effect that inspired a series of uprisings by sending two signals: first, that even entrenched authoritarian regimes are vulnerable; and second, that nonviolent tactics can be effective in bringing about dramatic political changes. Subsequent developments, especially in Libya and Syria, convoluted these messages.
The article argues that the political openings and the electoral victory of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia continue to send the signal to many Islamist opposition groups that nonviolent means and participation in politics can be effective ways to produce political change. The chance of gaining power through electoral means can give Islamists strong incentives to join in the demands for democratic institutions and change their stance towards political participation. The appeal of nonviolent tactics, however, is undermined when external threats surpass domestic considerations. When the primary concern of the public is about outside threats and the main enemy is external rather than a domestic despot, the impact of the Arab Spring on views regarding the efficacy of nonviolent tactics is diminished. Similarly, when an Islamic group is primarily concerned with the "far enemy," the incentives for moderation offered by political participation are undermined.