Rentierism Reflection

September 22, 2023 | | Leave a Comment

Oil rents do pose a threat to the political and social outcomes for MENA, but it is not the only cause of MENA’s “exceptionalism.” Taxation (and the lack of representation without it), spending, and group (non) formation are the factors that make up the rentier effect. The rentier effect also interacts with repression and modernization.


Oil rent is high in this region. States rely on the international market, which can lead to fluctuation. These stagnant prices can be difficult for a resource-rich country’s economy when there are frequent drops in barrel prices, which leads to foreign borrowing and eventual debt, such as in Egypt. However, when prices are steady with no budget deficit, governments do not have to tax their populations because of the income coming into the country (since they can afford their budget without taxpayer money). According to scholars, this can make a population less inclined to question what is happening with their money. My belief, illustrated by the Arab Spring Uprising, is that people will be inclined to ask these questions whether they are taxed or not. Instead, without taxation, the government feels they do not owe as much transparency to their citizens.


Not all countries in MENA are the same. Their experiences with the rentier effect differ according to their resources and their labor market. For example, resource-rich and labor-poor countries (RRLP) do not have to use as much repression in their state because they have the sums of money to give citizens when things get too disruptive (since they have a surplus to pay off their small population). Resource-rich, labor-abundant (RRLA) countries can not do this. While they may have significant funds, it is not enough to distribute to their entire population. However, they may be able to pay off a few elites. The RRLA countries must then lean into repression more when citizens become disruptive.


RRLP countries rely on imported labor from labor-abundant countries. Imported labor entails that the working population is less likely to unionize (form groups) because they are not citizens. The RRLP countries also ensure these laborers do not get citizenship, guaranteeing no group formation. RRLA countries do not have this advantage. RRLA countries have native citizens who comprise their workforce, and these native citizens may become unified to improve their conditions. Group formation also causes RRLA countries to repress their citizens more, so there is no collectivism.


There are also historical differences between these regions. RRLP countries tended to have significantly less colonization than their RRLA counterparts. RRLP countries would have more autonomy when being colonized and for less time. Colonization occurred in RRLA areas for significant periods- like Algeria. Including more colonization, RRLA countries tend to have more historical breaks or coups/overthrows. RRLP countries have had the same ruling power since the formation of their country by Western powers, such as in Jordan.


RRLA countries tend to have failed industrialization. The country may have suffered from Dutch Disease and could not handle the new influx of citizens into urban areas. Others may have attempted to modernize and failed because of regime change, lack of funding, loss of the agricultural sector, or ineffective distribution of funds. Their attempts to “develop” damaged the outcome of their state.


The factors that affect MENA vary among rent, repression, and modernization. These components affect MENA depending on their resources, wealth, and labor force. There is not one factor that has contributed to MENA’s “exceptionalism.” MENA is a diverse group of countries with overlap; there needs to be micro, meso, and macro analysis to understand the region.



Ross, Michael L. 2001. “Does Oil Hinder Democracy?” World Politics 53 (03): 325–61.

Anderson Reflection

September 15, 2023 | | 1 Comment

Lisa Anderson analyzes past arguments of why MENA is exceptional regarding authoritarian regimes. She states, “In the United States, policymakers and political scientists alike…[project] American institutions, values, and purposes onto the rest of the world” (Anderson 2006, 191). There is an expectation for MENA to accept Western democracy. Anderson reiterates that the “third wave” of democratization did not work in this region, even though it assisted in democratization in Latin America and former Soviet Union countries, which were previously authoritarian. However, Anderson concludes that there was an improvement in democratization in this region during the 1980s-1990s. She states that Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Saudia Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Kuwait added democratic elements to their elections/systems (Anderson 2006, 194). Anderson believes there was progress in this region. Although it did not look like, or go at the pace of, Western democracy.  


Anderson found widespread support for democracy even before the Arab Uprisings of 2011. The inclusion of democracy in these states, however, included Islam- something that some Western political scientists do not see as compatible. Other scholars, such as Arthur Goldsmith, analyze the relationship between Arabs who want democracy but who also want Islam to be a part of their government. Debate among religion and state is not unique to MENA. These inherent biases held against Islam are why many scholars find these discussions undemocratic.


Different regions will have different outcomes, including political ones. However, there is a belief that MENA “needs” to install a certain kind of democracy. Anderson understands the problem of this projection. There needs to be an understanding of why authoritarianism exists instead of how to incorporate democracy. Understanding this concept allows us to look at MENA through an intersectional lens instead of having a Western mentality.


The Arab uprisings of 2011 occurred after many of the readings we have come across, including Anderson’s. Unfortunately, many authoritarian leaders have used excessive force to quell these protests (other leaders have improved their rule, such as in Jordan). With this, there have been more questions about why MENA is exceptional. There are also people now seeing how politically involved this region can be. With the uprisings, there is proof that many citizens want some form of democracy within their government. It is no longer about why democracy has not worked in this region, but instead- why leaders are not responsive to their population’s economic and social needs.



Anderson, Lisa. 2006. “SEARCHING WHERE the LIGHT SHINES: Studying Democratization in the Middle East.” Annual Review of Political Science 9 (1): 189–214

From a liberal perspective, international factors do matter- especially in the global south. International intervention has been shown to improve a country’s development goals. However, there needs to be a reminder that international intervention is not “saving” a country. Many countries are developing because of centuries of colonialization. Many of the countries intervening are the same ones that initially colonized them.

Colonial powers, though, have much better access to resources- especially money. An international incentive to improve development stems from money. Years of colonization, and usually many years following war, has severe economic consequences. Having wealthy nations fund projects that begin to meet Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs encourages countries. As seen by my country, Nicaragua, which does not have any international intervention- funding development goals while 1/2 of your country is under the poverty line is difficult. When there are only national factors there is usually not enough money to have significant progress towards development goals, especially after colonialization.

In all honesty, colonialization is the reason many countries are struggling to develop. If the international community does not intervene it is almost impossible for countries to move forward. While national support can be strong, it cannot solve the problem. There needs to be funding. There needs to be open trade and complex interdependence. Having these attributes allows countries to focus on development instead of worrying about basic necessities- which is a direct result of colonialization.

There are a few national factors that encourage countries to move towards SDGs. A large factor is a revolution. Many citizens want to move towards a society that caters to their needs and longevity. Having a revolution that takes over or forces the government to do so is an extremely effective method (though not usually the first choice). Cultural norms, like religion, can also play a big part in moving towards sustainable goals. However, funding is a big aspect of moving towards this progress- which international aid assists with- is needed. The two must go hand-in-hand to move toward the 17 SDGs

Ukraine and Russia War has been a topic discussed by renowned International Relations scholars, politicians, diplomats, as well as the general public. After a year since the 2022 invasion, the International Community has not come to a consensus on what comes next. Both Russia and Ukraine are running low on artillery. Russia is also running low on militants- conscripting the population for the first time since World War II. There are countless “what-ifs” of the conflict. One of the major questions, though, is the question about nuclear weapons and what impact they play in the war.

Ukraine agreed to completely denuclearize after the collapse of the Soviet Union in exchange for security. However, with Russia being one of the nine countries with nuclear weapons and having one of the largest air defenses, there is debate on whether or not this was the right choice. Professors Russell Bova and Andrew Wolff argue that nuclear weapons in Ukraine are not necessary. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, does not want a nuclear war. One of his explanations for invading Ukraine was to stop the expansion of NATO. Although, using nuclear weapons on the country would be an almost surefire way to guarantee a war with NATO in Eastern Europe. Many question why the Russian military has not invaded other Eastern European countries to rid the threat of nuclear weapons pointed at Russia. The answer lies in the fact that NATO would have to intervene, especially with its growing membership since deterrence only works if the threat is backed by action.

Nuclear weapons have also deterred the United States, a primary actor in NATO. Putin knew that the United States did not want another war across the globe, as confirmed by President Joseph Biden after withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in August 2021. Both Russia and NATO are state actors- they know the consequence of nuclear war. Professor Wolff argues that because of this, there is little reason to worry: a Proliferation Optimist approach. However, Professor Bova argues that if Putin feels like he is backed into a corner he may forgo rational thought, a Selectivist view. I believe though, that Putin wholeheartedly believes that Ukraine is Russia’s, and is inherently his. I do not think he would want to use nuclear weapons on his own land, regardless of how powerless he feels.

This talk was exceptional and was easily related back to concepts of International relations such as beliefs on nuclear proliferation, functions of force, and intergovernmental organizations. My only criticism is statements comparing Ukraine and Afghanistan. There was a comment that Afghanistan was taken over because Afghans did not have a “will” to fight. I thought this was incredibly outlandish. There is an incredible difference between being supported by large Western powers and being invaded by them.

I wish, though, that there was more discussion on the daily lives of citizens in both Ukraine and Russia. I believe it is very easy to forget that people still have to exist while atrocities occur. There was a discussion on Ukrainian Art, but none was shown. I would like to see how this time is expressed by a multitude of people. I think that is the most important thing to remember during these hardships for Ukrainian civilians- they are people surviving day-to-day. During times like these, it is easy to remember statistics, but I believe we owe it to remember the individual.


February 15, 2023 | | Leave a Comment

As I have mentioned before, I am from a primarily white, conservative, and Protestant town. The accepted concept of “otherness” in my hometown was anyone who did not fit in this box. In my high school, there were fewer than 10 people of color.

In my hometown, race was the main factor in “otherness”- if you weren’t white, even if you weren’t Anglo-Saxon, you were not accepted into the “group”. People in the group are seen as individuals, they have character traits outside of their stereotypical assigned race traits. However, anyone else but white people was seen as plurals. They had no identity besides being not white. For every negative thing that a Hispanic person did, a black person would be blamed- ignorance grouped everyone.

Seeing someone as a plural instead of an individual sets a person in a toxic mindset, and dehumanizes the “other”. This contributes to negative stereotypes, isolation, mental health issues, and racial tensions, and can eventually lead to war. If it is socially acceptable to see someone as this, then people believe their perceptions are accurate and continue this cycle of oppression.


Growing up in a small town, I was always subject to others who were identical to me. Going to a primarily white institution did little to change this. However, discussing this with students from the University of Sharjah, they seemed to have very different experiences. The American University of Sharjah is one of the most racially diverse universities in existence. People from South Asia to Northern Europe are involved in the university, and the community as a whole- there are no discrepancies of any minority group. My group also discussed how there is mutual respect between everyone in the cities, both Sharjah and neighboring places, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

With a large and diverse population comes a large urban sphere. Sharjah is only around twenty-five minutes from Dubai- the biggest city in the UAE. However, I have little to no experience in this. Coming from a small town, the nearest cities were hours away, and the closest buildings were almost always gas stations. As my group members emphasized, malls are an incredibly big thing in Sharjah, and neighboring places. For me, it’s interesting how we can build our daily lives so differently based on where we live and the opportunities given to us.

My hometown

“Aerial Photography Map of Alburtis, PA Pennsylvania.” n.d. Accessed February 1, 2023.


Where 2/5 students in my group attend University

“Ariel View of SHARJAH –” n.d. Accessed February 1, 2023.

However, students from Sharjah are not the only ones with unique experiences. One member of my group lived in Lima, Peru for a major duration of her life, and has lived in the United States for six months. She describes differences in attitude- that people are considerably nicer here and talk much more. However, the last member of our group had a different experience, with Southern people being much more hospital than Northern people. I have little-to-no experience in the South, so while I cannot speak on this myself, it’s interesting how the two accounts differ.

Lima, Peru

“Aerial Drone View of Lima City. Capital and Main City of Peru. With…” n.d. IStock.

‌Lima is also a big city, the biggest in Peru. Again, this contrasts my experiences living in a small town. The final member of my group grew up in a multitude of different places but considers a town outside Nashville, Tennessee her home. She talks fondly of her community, the music festivals, and the food. While her home is considerably smaller than the others previously discussed she still is in a much bigger area than me. She, and my other group members, seem to have a stronger sense of community with people from their hometown, while I do not.

Nashville, Tennessee

“Over Nashville (Aerial Shots).” n.d. SkyscraperCity Forum. Accessed February 2, 2023.

‌With my group, I not only learned where they came from, but how much it influenced them. Their location impacted the language is spoken, their education, their associations, and their values. While it is not end-all-be-all, like in my case, it is apparent that where you live and where you grow up can affect you in daily life from your interactions to your thought process.