I was raised in Chambersburg, PA, a small town with very limited religious and ethnic diversity. I grew up as a minority belonging to one of the only Pakistani and Muslim households in my town with an even smaller Middle Eastern community. Where I was raised definitely could be a barrier to understanding what life is really like in the Middle East, however, I think it is important to come to your own conclusions from your own knowledge and experiences. Life in the Middle East is not as drastically different from the United States as sometimes is depicted in the media. To understand one’s culture it is important to put an effort towards learning what are the some of the customs and norms for a specific place and understanding that there are very few universal principles that can encompass an entire region of the world since the Middle East is a very diverse place with different cultures and languages. What has helped me overcome these barriers has been learning a language which is commonly spoken, Arabic, and traveling.Traveling has been helpful in learning about the Middle East and understanding that not all countries in the Middle East are the same. For example, there was a stark contrast between the time I spent in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but that could also be true for someone traveling to different places within the United States.
A Siege of Salt and Sand is a documentary which successfully portrays the relationship between climate change and politics in Tunisia. It shows the difficulty people have accessing clean drinking water and land suitable for farming and development. The documentary shows how farmers in the region are the most vulnerable to climate change because they have to deal with its effects first-hand. Farmers are seen in the documentary appealing to the government for assistance, but these governments have been unwilling to provide any support.
The documentary proves how ineffective governments can be in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) when it comes to fighting climate change. For example, the government of Tunisia created a mascot for the environment instead of actually implementing policies to help the environment. The Tunisian economy is also in jeopardy unless solutions to these problems are created. Although the new government after Ben Ali was deposed includes climate change in its constitution, the government needs to implement long-lasting and effective solutions in order for the country to progress.
In the Middle East and North Africa, many oil-rich countries are known as rentier states, which are states that derive most of their wealth from foreign exports. One theory of democracy concerning rentier states is that high oil rents are somehow related to the lack of democracy and political modernization in MENA. This theory is based on the actions of governments in oil rich states such as the ability to spend large amounts on coercive power and providing services such as not taxing their citizens. In his article “Does Oil Hinder Democracy?”, Ross presents that it is statistically valid that oil harms democracy, especially in poor states, and that this is not only limited to the Middle East. Figure 1 shows that ten countries in MENA make up 44% of the world’s share of oil, the majority of which are non-democratic. However, these oil rents are largely damaging because of their size, and how they are utilized by authoritarian governments. States that have large oil rents are successful in maintaining their rule because they are easily able to punish those who do not comply and incentive those who do. Although there are more factors for why democracy is rare in the Middle East than oil including social factors and the effects of colonization, it is clear that oil rents are a large part of why oil-rich states in MENA have not modernized.
In Lisa Anderson’s “Searching Where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East”, she explains how American political scientists have been studying democracy in the Middle East from the wrong perspective. In the United States, democracy is seen as the ideal goal for every country, and views American values and establishments as aspirations for the Middle East. Because American theories of democracy are not capable of explaining the politics of the region, it makes it difficult to evaluate how ideas of democracy would be received.
American political scientists continue to be unaware of the history of the Middle East before World War I when countries became independent from European imperialism. The new states that became independent, even if they had a long-lasting history, were created with a large amount of European influence. The states that emerged then developed different national identities, and the politics and dynamics of the states were not recognized by American political scientists who only focused on the region post-independence. In this course, we could compensate for this problem by not focusing on the region only from a Western perspective but in a way that is accurate and factual and less Euro-centric.
The Arab Spring that began in 2010 was a series of pro-democracy uprisings that spread across the Middle East. The Arab Spring did change how political scientists and policy makers viewed the prospects for democracy because it showed that it did have, and continues to have, widespread support in the region. However, the Arab Spring did not result in the widespread change in government as many countries had hoped for with only one country, Tunisia, becoming a constitutional democracy. The Arab Spring was not able to solve the problems Anderson mentioned with political scientists concerning democracy in the Middle East.
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