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


1 Comment so far

  1.    Ed Webb on September 20, 2023 8:41 pm

    Good stuff. I think its important to understand not only why leaders are unresponsive or only selectively responsive to popular demands but also how they are able to get away with it.

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