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"‘The Pandemic Was a Global Exam, and Our Country Came In First’: Autocratic Performance Legitimacy in Saudi Arabia"

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Schmidt-Feuerheerd, Bruno 


Abstract: Existing scholarship establishes that authoritarian regimes make discursive claims about their legitimacy yet does not tell us what makes these claims effective. This article argues that authoritarian legitimation narratives are more effective when co-produced by the government, media, and pro-government supporters, rather than just being centrally disseminated talking points. Media outlets and supporters can expand basic government talking points to provide a more engaging and fleshed-out narrative for audiences. The article uses the effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by the Saudi government to demonstrate how this narration translated trust in state capacity into performance legitimacy of the regime. Saudi media figures and pro-government supporters discussed successful policies in relation to countries with higher international status (chiefly in the West) and those assumed to have higher state capacity (such as China). These narratives served to legitimate the Saudi system of governance specifically, rather than authoritarianism in general. This article demonstrates this argument by evaluating statements by the government, original media sources and more than 90 interviews with Saudi nationalists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs, while speaking to the relational character of performance legitimation beyond Saudi Arabia.



4408 Political Science, 44 Human Society, 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

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Perspectives on Politics

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Cambridge University Press
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2024-05-29 10:54:21
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