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Reflection on Studying Authoritarianism and Change in MENA

After reflecting on this semester, I have found that the most important tools for studying authoritarianism and change in MENA was through identifying the countries’ regime type, political economy type, and historical factors.

In regard to political economy type/resource endowment group, I especially found it helpful to classify countries by Resource Rich Labor Poor, Resource Rich Labor Abundant, Resource Poor Labor Abundant, and OECD, whereby we can connect population and labor to resources, oil wealth, and oil rents. Simultaneously, it is helpful to categorize the countries by their political regime (authoritarian republics, Islamic republics, monarchies, transition countries, and ‘would-be and quasi democracies’). Demonstrated in Cammett, Diwan, Richards, and Waterbury’s Table 3.1 on page 75, creating a chart between the resource endowment group and the regime type allows political scientists to look at how countries have evolved since independence as well as to identify major patterns between countries geographically, economically, culturally, politically, and historically.

Source: (Cammett, Diwan, Richards and Waterbury 2017, 75)

Similarly, political scientists can better analyze countries’ political regimes by further characterizing the states into military regimes, single-party, and multi-party regimes. For the military-industrial complexes, one can identify countries based on the maximum to minimum engagement of the military in politics. Likewise, for single party and multi-party regimes, there is also a range of countries who fall in-between the characterizations; for example, Syria which technically allows multi-party parliament in create a facade of multi-partyism (Class lecture 11/2).

In regard to historical factors, political scientists can also look at the MENA countries’ history of colonization; specifically, how the legacies of Ottoman and European rule have shaped governments, economies, and societies in the newly independent countries (Cammett et al. 95).

I also learned different aspects of countries based on the type of source. For example, from a detailed single case study like Wedeen’s book on Syria, one can analyze more in-depth the iconography of the ruler/ruling family and role of the military in the state, as well as how the iconography is used in regard to regime propaganda and protection. Whereas, region-spanning, thematic studies like Cammett, Diwan, Richards, and Waterbury, allow political scientists to trace patterns within countries and across the region. Specifically, Cammett, Diwan, Richards, and Waterbury’s study analyzes each country’s and compares and contrasts countries’ economic performance, political regime, human capital, conflicts, etc.

Overall, this class has drastically improved by knowledge of the region and how I would characterize and identify countries within the region.

Works Cited:

Cammett, Melani Claire, Ishac Diwan, Alan Richards, and John Waterbury. 2019. A Political Economy of the Middle East. London: Routledge.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Monarchies in MENA

While most of Europe’s monarchies dissolved in the end of the 18th century, the MENA region still has a substantial number of monarchies; many of which face many challenges to their rule and could potentially follow suit of failed monarchies such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Libya. Arguably, monarchies survive depending on whether they follow the guiding characteristics of their type of monarchy; for example, linchpin monarchies have “survived because of their broad, inclusive, and pluralistic regime coalitions,” while dynastic monarchies survive on a narrower societal base (Lucas 2004, 9). Also known as the “king’s dilemma,” linchpin monarchies, such as Egypt and Iraq, failed to establish their legitimacy among their people by catering to narrow elite interests failing to incorporate the growth of the new middle class. Even though the MENA region and its strategic oil rent often grants regimes greater institutional flexibility in managing the regime’s citizenship, “economic and external assets could not save regimes that were entirely divorced from a social base” (Lucas 2004, 117). On the other hand, dynastic monarchies are weakened by the limited pool of personnel to guide leadership; for example, in 1958, Iraq was led by Prince Abd al-llah, a young playboy, with weak advisers and was ambushed by a violent military coup killing the entire Hashemite ruling family. Whereas in Iran, the monarchy leaned too hard into coercion; where the military became tired of oppressing and killing civilians and toppled the monarchy during the 1979 revolution.

Overthrown monarchies in MENA

Overthrown monarchies in MENA

In his work ‘Monarchical Authoritarianism: Survival and Political Liberalization in a Middle Eastern Regime Type,’ Lucas argues that the longevity of monarchical rule in the Middle East is something more than the persistence of traditional Islam, but also the ability to control and use political liberalization as a survival strategy. Lucas argues that political liberalization, allowing the mobilization of civil society, “provides an opportunity for a monarchical regime to activate “divide-and-rule” policies and re-calibrate social balances of power” (Lucas 2004, 11). However, the 2011 Arab Spring, demonstrated how political mobilization and energy can also be a challenge for the monarchy; however not an impossible challenge. Jordan and Morocco demonstrated how monarchies could survive political activism even without oil wealth. For example, Morrocco responded to protestors’ demands by creating a commission to explore constitutional reform and to hear the grievances of the people, otherwise known as “playing for time” and diffusing political energy (Khatib and Lust 2014, 199).

To confront challenges to their monarchical rule, successful regimes often have a flexible form of rule by regime-led state formation and national building (Lucas 2004, 104). This means that rulers often encourage pluralism among social groups, because “monarchies are better able to serve as the central focus in balancing, manipulating, and controlling societies characterized by such vertical cleavages, particularly when those are reinforced by ‘antiquity of blood,” acting as the linchpin of the political system amongst tribal, religious, ethnic, and religious divisions (Lucas 2004, 107). Unlike the Saudi-family ruling the kingdom, linchpin rulers are still the main center of power but are not involved in the day-to-day politics of the country. However, on the other hand, dynastic monarchies offer self-interested competition within the ruling families that allow the regime to “channel family disputes into patterns of constructive competition” (Lucas 2004, 109).


Khatib, Lina, and Ellen Lust. 2014. Taking to the Streets: The Transformation of Arab Activism. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Russell, Lucas. 2004. “Monarchical Authoritarianism: Survival And Political Liberalization In A Middle Eastern Regime Type” International Journal of Middle East Studies 36, 1: 103-119 [pdf]

Connecting ‘A Siege of Salt and Sand’ with Cammett et al.’s ‘A Political Economy of the Middle East’

The film ‘A Siege of Salt and Sand’ has many connections to the Cammett, Diwan, Richards, and Waterbury reading; both works specifically climate change, water scarcity, droughts, and the overall arid climate of the region. While the film focuses specifically on Southern Tunisia, both sources highlight these increasingly difficult environmental conditions that are constraining agricultural production as well as, daily human life. The film began with an introduction to the late 2010 democratic revolution toppling the Ben Ali dictatorship where protesters demanded an end to repression, corruption, and constitutional protections for political diversity, gender parity, the poor, and even the environment. However, after the revolution, few discussed climate change and even fewer admitted there were serious issues.

The film depicts the issues of parasites (leishmaniasis, the sand fly), the loss of palm trees, growing salt flats, an accelerated rising of sea level, the lack of rain affecting agricultural production, desertification, etc; many of which the reading fails to discuss. Instead, the reading heavily focuses on water and food security. Cammett et al. discuss how many countries save water by cutting back on irrigated agriculture; the problem is the majority of people in Southern Tunisia are farmers who have none or barely any access to water in general (Cammett et al. 199). In the film, many of the interviewees and the imagery itself demonstrate how many farmers are abandoning their lands and migrating to cities due to the lack of water, especially the governmental support to provide water, and the growing desertification of the already dry and arid land. The interviewees argued that the solution to the lack of water and growing desertification are wells and building sand walls, both also creating jobs for young people and provide water so the whole region can prosper; however, as Cammett et al. discuss, many government water management systems suffer from lack of funds (Cammett et al. 218).

Source: “EarthDay Event Explores Climate Pressure in North Africa and the Middle East // ‘a Siege of Salt and Sand’ Film Screening | Bonnections.de” 2017

Overall, I fairly enjoyed watching the film, specifically hearing interviews and personal narratives from region and subject matter experts such as political scientists, Marine ecologist, and presidents of environmental organizations, as well as ordinary people such as mothers, fishermen, farmers, and teachers and how it affects their culture and daily lives. I also really liked the use of both Arabic with English subtitles as well as English speakers; the Arabic allowing the reader to experience the native and authentic answers from people living in the region. However, while it was nice to hear from many different perspectives, it became quite repetitive to hear the same issues again and again, without any really grounded data and only personal perspectives.


“A Siege of Salt and Sand”. Directed by Sam McNeil, produced by Sam McNeil and Radhouane Addala, 2014.

Cammett, Melani. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Available from: MBS Direct, (4th Edition). Taylor & Francis, 2018.

“EarthDay Event Explores Climate Pressure in North Africa and the Middle East // ‘a Siege of Salt and Sand’ Film Screening | Bonnections.de.” 2017. April 12, 2017. https://www.bonnections.de/en/2017/04/12/earthday-event-explores-climate-pressure-in-north-africa-and-the-middle-east-a-siege-of-salt-and-sand-film-screening/.


Oil Rents Damaging Political and Social Outcomes in MENA

As we discussed in class, one of the main types of rent is resource rent; revenue a state receives with minimal effort by simply owning the resource-rich land. Specifically in the MENA and Gulf region, oil rent is one of the most common resource rents and has led to the rentier effect; in particular the “taxation effect,” in which the government are likely to tax their population less heavily or not all since its’ main source of revenue is from oil. Because the government is not receiving or receiving little taxes from the public, they are less likely to listen to the populace, and vice versa, the public will be less likely to demand accountability or representation from their government; no representation without taxation (Ross 332).

Middle East Oil Production by Country

Another effect of oil rent is the “repression effect:” governments using their oil wealth for militarized or coercive programs that help reduce pressures of democracy (Ross 333). As the most heavily militarized region in the world, MENA states typically use a large portion of their revenue on security spending and even creating oppressive apparatuses such as “mukhabarat states.” In particular, RRLP states in the Gulf, are known for using their oil revenue to reduce dissent through militarization and force.

Looking at these two main effects, I would argue that oil rent serves as a means to damaging political and social outcomes. However, the factors that really impact these outcomes is how the government uses the revenue based on factors such as cultural or historical features, ideological or religious factors, or a simple reliance and dependency on a singular resource, oil.


Ross, M. L. (2001). Does oil hinder democracy? World Politics, 53(3), 325–361. https://doi.org/10.1353/wp.2001.0011

Anderson’s “Searching Where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East”

For decades, political scientists studying the Middle East have tried to solve the region’s unique resistance to democracy or rather, the persistence of authoritarianism. In her 2006 article “Searching Where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East,” Anderson argues that one of the main reasons why political scientists have failed to understand the political forces at work in the Middle East is due to the West, in particular the United States, projecting democracy as the measure of politics onto the rest of the world based on their institutions, values, and ideals (Anderson 191). Especially after events such as Secretary Albright’s speech in 2001 and 9/11, political scientists have become preoccupied with democracy and American foreign policy’s emphasis of democratization; two unnatural and ambiguous notions to both Arab leaders and people. By trying to fit the region into the western boundaries of political science, an awkward and ill-fitting framework for understanding dynamics in the Middle East,” political scientists have become unable to study of Middle Eastern politics and the region’s contribution to comparative politics (Anderson 205).

Freedom House Map depicting the numerous MENA countries who are ranked as “not free.”

Anderson refers to the metaphor of finding a key on a street to illustrate her argument. Instead of searching for the key only in the light meaning fixating on the Western idea of “democratization,” political scientists should search more in the shadows, “in the arenas of political life less well illuminated by conventional political science” (Anderson 210).

Anderson highlights the many faults in the universal democracy bandwagon enforced by the West. First, American political science is ahistorical where political scientists only recognized Middle Eastern societies after their independence, ignoring their rich regional histories. Many of the political scientists, also focused on the role religion in sustaining democracy; while most political scientists agreed that Islamist politics often coincided with the emergence of democracy, others found it difficult to differentiate the Muslim world from the Arab Middle East.

As a class, we can avoid or compensate for these potential problems by recognizing that democracy is not the only aspect of political science we should be looking at when trying to understand a country’s political dynamics. We can also work to avoid any biases, especially from a Western perspective, and instead, analyzing the region by equally taking into account its’ rich history, culture, religions, and uniquity.

Anderson’s article also discusses how Arab people may not actually want or care about democracy due to the lack of “organized popular enthusiasm for democratic reform,” potential of people in the region not understanding the concept of democracy, and the term being used by insincere leaders to promote their interests and reputation (Anderson 204).  However, the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011 would have proven that indeed, Arab people did want democracy. Perhaps they didn’t specifically use the words “democracy” or “democratization,” but they demanded basic human rights, dignity, and freedom. This social movement would have demonstrated to the political science community that many countries are filled with people willing to sacrifice for the democratic ideals of rights, dignity, and freedom.

References: Anderson, Lisa. “Searching where the light shines: Studying democratization in the Middle East.” Annual Review of Political Science, vol. 9, no. 1, 2006, pp. 189–214, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.9.072004.095345.

The Role and Significance of Mass Media

After this semester, I now better understand how important media are, especially in who the source is and the way they frame the news.

On the one hand, elites often serve as important media sources and define media agendas. This link between the government and the media consists of ownership by elites, propaganda, regulation, and the varying types of censorship. As we wrote about in our final paper, media technologies also have important effects on politics. Especially in the MENA region, the ruling elite prioritizes remaining in power and either uses or challenges the media in order to do so. We also read about media as foreign policy, where ‘hearts and minds’ can be won by providing or silencing media coverage of certain news.

On the other hand, journalists are also very significant to the lives of the public; where often they can circumvent or challenge the existing political order and government. Journalists can serve society through investigation or activism, reporting on issues the ruling elite may be distorting or hiding from the public. Often media also crosses the boundary of public and private, changing people’s opinions who later discuss and debate with others in the public sphere. This helped build foundations for a pluralistic political culture by demonstrating the legitimacy of disagreement and challenging the message of the government.

In general, journalists and media outlets dictate what is the focus, or what is “inside the frame,” how it’s portrayed, what information is left out, as well as its headline. This bias of presentism also demonstrates how mass media rarely gives context or history focusing on the present, which can distort one’s understanding.

Finally, one of the overarching lessons I have learned from this class is checking the reliability of one’s media sources in order to make sure you are accessing unbiased news and thus gaining accurate information about the issue or event.


Webb, Edward 2022. Lecture, Dickinson College, 1 September, 6 September, 13 September.

Regulating Religious Expression in MENA

For the United States, the first amendment’ freedom of religion and the separation of church and state are two of its many fundamental beliefs and values. The MENA region however, has the highest percentage of nations with an official religion, most Islam, and is known for its strict regulation and censorship of religious expression. In these countries with an official religion, governance and Islam are combined: citizens are required to be Muslim, public worship by religions other than Islam is forbidden, and the distribution of non-Muslim materials such as the Bible or the Torah are illegal.

While doing my research, I was especially interested in how high or low levels of the population following the official religion affected the validity and reasonableness of the country’s level of regulating religious expression.

Let’s look at Algeria for an example. Algeria’s official religion is Islam, and the country is dominated by Muslims. In a country where 99% of its population is Muslim, I personally find it logical for the country to have high religious regulation in regard to preserving and following Islamic law. Naturally people wonder about the 1% of religious minorities? Is it fair for them that the country heavily censors religious expression?

Religious Affiliation in Algeria 2020 (Source: PEW Research Center)

Maybe the reason the country has such a high percentage of Muslim population, is because the high religious censorship has pushed other minorities out. Why live in a country where the entire state is based on a completely different religion than your own?


83 Nations Have Official State Religion or Favored Religion – Good Faith Media

Saudi Arabia – The World Factbook (cia.gov)

Religions in Algeria | PEW-GRF (globalreligiousfutures.org)

Religion in Algeria – Wikipedia

Anthony Borden’s ‘Journalism in Conflict: Reporting from Ukraine and Beyond’

I really enjoyed the Clarke Forum on ‘Journalism in Conflict: Reporting from Ukraine and Beyond’ with Anthony Borden. He discussed his experiences and the obstacles he faces as a journalist and war correspondent in conflicts such as the Gulf War, Iraq War, and the current war in Ukraine.

During the Iraq War, Borden talked about how his ‘Institue for War and Peace & Reporting’ (IWPR) trained Iraqi officials to become journalists, working to build a network of local voices across Iraq. Where instead of shutting down extremists, the Iraqi journalists would present a different view of the conflict.

In Ukraine, there are many obstacles for journalists; the main challenge being Russia’s disinformation campaign, or its’ “big lie,” where the government readily lies to dodge any responsibility during the conflict. However, with the current digital age, specifically social media, war correspondents are able to cover events through nontraditional media sources and platforms like Twitter and TikTok. In fact, as we have seen in a lot of authoritarian countries, individuals in both Ukraine and Russia are also able to post images and videos during the conflict.

Another major challenge is data; some information is there, and some is not. On the one hand, the CNN effect means people around the world can see soldiers being killed in real-time, influencing how both citizens and policymakers interpret and respond to the war. On the other hand, a lot of information is not there because the government doesn’t allow for its collection; information such as gender, etc.

Thank you, Mr. Borden, for coming to Dickinson and talking with us! From now on, I will have a better understanding and appreciation for journalists and war correspondents!

The 2022 COP27 is in Egypt? The Same Egypt with Heavy Censorship and Thousands of Political Prisoners?

The COP27 is currently being held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Egypt is the fifth African country to host the COP; Africa being especially significant as one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. Amplified by its role as host of the conference, Cairo has situated itself as Africa’s climate leader, with its main goal being to secure funds for helping developing countries’ adaption efforts.

At the same time, Egypt is still a relatively strict police state under the Sisi military dictatorship. In fact, many critics argue Cairo is using the summit as a “rebranding exercise” to deflect and distract from its authoritarian censorship and societal crackdown. Since 2013, Egypt has increasingly blocked independent news outlets and now holds approximately 60,000 journalists and activists behind bars.

Image result for egypt cop27

Entrance to the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (Source: HP News https://hoshyarpakistan.com/world/egypt-human-rights-cop27-climate-activist-hunger-strike-rcna55405/)

Now, as the host of the Cop27 climate summit, attendees have already faced the country’s heavy censorship. For example, the conference internet connection blocks access to important news websites, such as the global rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty international, needed for the informational talks. Ironically, both the HRW and Amnesty Interntional are supposed to lead panel discussions at the conference but are unable to access their own websites. The extensive list of blocked websites, about 700 sites, is creating trying difficulties for the talks; one activist argues that, “there is no climate action without truth and information.”


Egypt Is Hosting COP27. Can It Become Africa’s Climate Champion? | Council on Foreign Relations (cfr.org)

What is COP27? Everything you need to know about Egypt’s landmark climate conference | Euronews

Egypt human rights record under fire as it hosts COP27 climate conference – HP NEWS (hoshyarpakistan.com)

Regime Change in Lebanon: which Medium is Reliable?

If Lebanon were to undergo a regime change, which media channels would I turn to, to understand the situation?

I would first try to find news sources completely detached from the direct control or influence by the Lebanese state. Under a newly established regime, these channels would be disorganized and unreliable in their ability to provide accurate and neutral information.  However, with the majority of the media belonging either to political parties or powerful Lebanese families, finding an active and nonpartisan Lebanese news outlet is nearly impossible. Instead, it is safer to look outside of Lebanon for news content.

On a similar note, I would also try to avoid most of the western media sites such as BBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, etc. As we have seen before during the Iraq war, the West, invested in advancing their own interests and beliefs, often portrays a different situation that what is truly happening. If I were to use a Western source, I would use a U.S. military news site such as the Early Bird Brief from the DefenseNews. The site provides daily stories discussing military, defense, and national security issues to the U.S. around the world. Obviously, the site would present an American and military perspective, however I believe it would provide concrete information on the military and overall internal affairs of the country.

Overall, the sites I would most rely on an are international Arab media outlets like Al Jazeera.  Although often criticized for its sensationalist and argumentative content, Al Jazeera is an active actor in the media, devoted to covering Arab news for the Pan-Arab sphere and the rest of the world. Yes, Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatari Royal family; rarely criticizing or reporting on the affairs in Qatar. In other countries however, Al Jazeera is aggressive and blunt, unafraid to condemn and critique problems in their state. Al Jazeera would critically analyze the Lebanese situation and report all important information and stories they believe the world needs to see. International media sites in the Arab region are detached enough from the state that they are free from its influence, but are still geographically in the region, reporting as members of the Arab community, sharing in the communal sense of anger and worry, and devoted to bringing all people, especially fellow Arabs, the truth.



Middle East News Sources – Middle East and Islamic Studies Guide – Research Guides at New York University (nyu.edu)

Early Bird Brief – Top military, defense and national security headlines. | Defense News


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