Why It Matters: Government and Politics

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

Photo of a crowded Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt where many people in the crowd are waving Egyptian flags in the air

Figure 1. In 2011, thousands of Egyptian citizens demonstrated in the streets and protested political repression by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Rashad/flickr)

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 after 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. Eight 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. Over half a million lives have been lost due to the Syrian conflict, and more than 50,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since 2015.[1]

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? In what ways does the government influence society, and vice versa?  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 and globally.


  1. I am Syria. Retrieved from http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html.