To me, when studying authoritarianism in MENA, tools that have broad analyses or specific analyses are valuable, just in different ways and at different stages in the learning process. One crucial tool for studying authoritarianism in MENA is structural analysis of the numerous factors that affect authoritarian regimes’ outcomes. A Political Economy of the Middle East offers such broad analysis. This source uses categories to understand the larger internal structures within regimes. Broad categories helped me compare and contrast large regional differences so I could better understand individual cases. The author’s methodology helped me see what factors existed across regime types, and I was able to identify those as important. For example, I understand now that rapid growth in population leading to less job availability is a problem that affects multiple countries. By using population statistics, I was able to draw conclusions about the causation of events such as the Arab Spring. Therefore, I think the model of A Political Economy of The Middle East is valuable because it demonstrates the importance of economics and demographics in authoritarian regimes beyond the actions or policies of a regime itself. This tool of the region spanning approach is especially useful when learning about vocabulary for studying. However, the additional context of things such as colonial history or former leadership was a bit brief, but I do think they are essential to look at.   

Detailed cases such as Wedeen’s book on Syria, especially after reading about regional trends helped me better understand how differences such as population, sectarianism, regime, leadership, military, etc. change outcomes. In the case of Syria, an in-depth look was essential to my understanding of how the Arab Spring has escalated into a Civil War. Indeed, some outcomes cannot be accurately understood by applying the same concepts to every country. Such an issue seems similar to Lisa Anderson’s argument in “Searching Where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East.” One of the issues we discussed was that scholars frequently use language and concepts occurring in other regions to explain what is happening in MENA, discounting the complex history of the region. So too, it seems that this could apply to individual countries in MENA. For example, the dynamics that exist between rulers and citizens in Saudi Arabia are likely going to vary in many ways with the dynamics in Egypt or Tunisia. So while categories are excellent for understanding general trends, Weeden’s individual focus is valuable for in-depth understanding. 

In addition, Wedeen seems to frame the book from the perspective of a citizen who has internal responses to things such as propaganda, and protest. Wedeen’s focus helps readers understand what’s happening within a country and also was is happening to citizens and communities. Such an analysis seems similar to our time spent talking about Tunisia, and analyzing different regions in the country and economic factors that drive dissent. Individual studies allow for analysis of colonial histories or the specific effects of natural resource wealth. 

By studying particular actors, especially those in power, I understood why some regions had differing economic outcomes or were in different stages of democratization. Leadership is important in authoritarian regimes, but using categories may not always describe all the effects.  

In addition, there seems to be different rhetorical value in each work. Wedeen writes from the perspective of Syrian citizens and in an arguably less analytical way than the authors of A Political Economy of the Middle East. As a reader, this meant that the writing was not only more approachable, but I was also able to appreciate the impact of the authoritarian regimes on citizens. However, A Political Economy of the Middle East offered graphs and statistics to show trends and back up claims.

Overall, I think each type of perspective and type of methodology can be a useful tool, depending on levels of understanding of the topic. But if real understanding is the goal, you cannot utilize just one type of tool.  


Anderson, Lisa. 2006. “Searching where the light shines: studying democratization in the Middle East” Annual Review of Political Science 9:189–214

Cammett, Melani Claire, Ishac Diwan, Alan Richards, and John Waterbury. A political economy of the Middle East. Routledge, 2019.

Leave a Reply