Reflection on Lisa Anderson’s 2006 article by Martin Vatanka

In the 2006 article “Searching where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East”, author Lisa Anderson points out the various problems she sees with the way that political scientists attempt to understand the political forces that are major players in MENA. First I would like to point out that I enjoyed the section labeled “Answering the Question: The Study of Democratization in the Middle East.” I thought that it was a great way to introduce how in the aftermath of World War II, the United States, now a global superpower, found itself in a region that was rather complicated as a result of foreign intervention over the years and the amount of different ethnic groups that lived in the region. I also found it interesting how with the start of the Cold War, the United States and the West sought to project their own image of freedom to the many countries of the Middle East, many of whom had recently become independent from colonial rule. This was done not only out of seeking to spread Western ideals and principles of government, but also to compete with the alternative forms of Marxist-Leninist style government that was promoted by the United State’s biggest rival and fellow global superpower: the Soviet Union. Anderson goes on to point a number of problems she sees about how political scientists approach the Middle East. For example, on page 201 she writes that political scientists were asking the wrong questions, such as “how democracy emerged or survived in the Middle East” when, according to Anderson, it hadn’t. I believe that this is a great observation made by Anderson. There were many states in the Middle East and North Africa, such as Syria, Libya, Iran, and Iraq, that called themselves Republics and some even called themselves democracies, in particular Iran after the 1979 revolution. This was of course, as Anderson hints, a total lie. Syria, Libya, and Iraq were just authoritarian dictatorships and Iran became more democratic in that they had elections, but the freedoms of the people of Iran, particularly women, was largely scaled back and even with their elections the people were unable to elect to office the highest position in their government: the Supreme Leader. Most of the other nations of the region are just monarchies or in some cases have limited forms of democracy. In regards to our class on Authoritarianism and change in MENA, I believe that we can avoid the problems in this course by realizing that for the people of MENA to truly accept the principles of democracy, it can no longer be introduced through force, with examples such as Iraq in 2003, when US troops invaded the country, toppled the Baathist Party, and replaced it with a democracy. This will cause resistance to democracy and slow its spread. Democracy has to be introduced peacefully and most importantly by local leaders within that country, not through foreign intervention of any kind. I also believe that before democracy is built, you have to create a stable environment that is secure and where people’s basic needs for survival are meet first. After all a man does not need a vote to survive. But food and water, that is needed. The process towards democratization must be gradual, not overnight. Rushing a sensitive and often times fragile system into a new shape is never a good idea, such as when Gorbachev of the former USSR attempted to bring democracy to his country. In a few years huge changes came and he lost control, causing the Union to collapse.

Got any book recommendations?