Why It Matters: Government and Politics

Why analyze types of power and authority and explore the political process in the United States?

An Egyptian protester holds up a sign of Hosni Mubarak as a vampire

In 2011, thousands of Egyptian citizens demonstrated in the streets and protested political repression by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [“The “Mubarak as vampire” poster” by Al Jazeera English is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]

Hosni Mubarak had been the President of Egypt for nearly thirty years when massive public uprisings caused him to step down in 2011. Gaining the presidency in 1981 when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, Mubarak had maintained his regime through a series of “monopoly” elections in which he was the only candidate. Popular unrest first drew significant notice in 2004, and by early 2011 thousands of Egyptians had begun protesting political oppression through demonstrations in the streets of several Egyptian cities, including the capital city of Cairo. There was sporadic violence between demonstrators and the military, but eventually Mubarak resigned and left the country. Within a year, a free, multi-candidate election was held in Egypt.

The “Arab Spring” refers to a series of uprisings in various countries throughout the Middle East, including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia, Qatar, and Yemen. The extent of protest has varied widely among these countries, as have the outcomes, but all were based on popular uprisings of the people, who were dissatisfied with their respective government leaders but were unable to create change by less extreme methods. In countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, revolution did involve some violence, but relatively less than in other Middle Eastern countries. In Libya, the repressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi was brought to an end after forty-two years. The number of causalities reported differs depending on the source; the exact number is still unknown, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. Five years after the initial uprising, Syria is still entrenched in an ongoing Civil War between the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, and Syrian Opposition Forces, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and various other factions.

Why did these uprisings occur in such rapid succession in the same region of the world? In what ways did governments influence the society in these Middle Eastern nations? What is the difference between having power and having authority? These are the types of questions that sociologists ask in relation to government and politics. In this module, we’ll strive to understand the essentials about the basic forms of government and explore the political process in the United States.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

  • Define and differentiate between power and authority
  • Describe forms of government and explain politics in the United States
  • Describe the varying theoretical perspectives on government and power