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Through a unique collection of essays drawn from rich case studies, Authoritarianism in the Middle East provides important insights into the ongoing instabilities of the Middle East, and the authoritarianism and democratisation processes that have led to dramatic socio-political transformations.




The Middle East, a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago, has in general been controlled by authoritarian regimes. Although in the 1970s a number of countries in the Middle East began experiencing some democratic developments, these limited reforms, including relatively free elections in multiparty systems (albeit giving little space for the opposition), failed to change the region’s political structure. This political structure was accompanied by an economic structure based on crony capitalism, which did not change despite popular uprisings in the 1980s and a few political liberalization attempts in the 1980s. As for the democracy promotion policy launched by the United States and some other Western countries throughout the 1990s, it only helped authoritarian leaders consolidate their power via elections.
Jülide Karakoç

1. The Roots of Authoritarianism in the Middle East

Over the last 40 years, many countries in the world have been democratized. Between 1974 and 1990 the number of democratic governments in the world nearly doubled. According to Huntington (1991a), a third wave of democratization1 started in Portugal and Spain in the 1970s and swept the developing world during the 1980s and 1990s. The democratization wave was accelerated with the end of the Cold War. Despite a declining pace and stagnation in the improvement of political rights, human rights and civil liberties, the actual number of democratic countries has thus increased since the mid-1970s. Yet this democratization process has not firmly taken hold in the Middle East.
Selin M. Bölme

2. Authoritarian Tendencies versus Democratization: Evidence from Turkey

Democracy means much more than elections and institutions. At its most basic level, it is predicated on the diffusion of power within government and society. In a democratic regime, power is shared among different branches to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful. Checks and balances are necessary to prevent the accumulation of power and to ensure healthy competition among the legislative and executive branches and an independent judiciary. In this context, the government is accustomed to the presence of an opposition and government leaders are conscious that they enjoy a temporary hold on power. However, a democracy also requires that power be distributed among civil society, the media, trade unions and other institutions to ensure that they are independent of state control. In this context, all ethnic and religious groups, genders or social classes are included in political life because democracy requires all members of society to have individual and political rights and it requires the protection of those rights (Haass, 2003, pp. 139–140).
Jülide Karakoç

3. The Arab World between 2011 and 2014: From Revolutionary Configurations to the State of Violence

The revolutionary contests of 2011 constituted the starting point of a new historical cycle in the contemporary history of the Arab world and the Middle East broadly speaking. No wonder then that they have been widely interpreted by the scholars of this region, but also by those working on the comparative history and sociology of revolutions throughout the world. While some researchers have analyzed them within the framework of an integrated theory of resistance (Tripp, 2013), others have qualified them as the second Arab awakening with a largely undetermined future (Dawisha, 2013). Some explained 2011 with the emergence of new social movements (Khosrokhavar, 2012); others suggested that thanks to these massive protests against their own regimes, the Arab societies were finally leaving the colonial past behind them (Dabashi, 2012; Lynch, 2013). Whereas some French scholars and observers have detected in the Arab contests a universal event, drawing parallels with the pre-1792 period of the French Revolution (Stora and Plenel, 2011), some jurists thought that they could open new avenues to redefine the ongoing debates on international law and universal rights (Panara and Wilson, 2013).
Hamit Bozarslan

4. A Long Road Ahead for Achieving Fully Fledged Equality: Saudi Women’s Rights Activism

Since the 19th century a strong women’s movement has been active in many Middle Eastern societies, creating a real challenge for the authoritarian governments and the patriarchal social systems. However, international groups and authors continue to generally stress a regressive stance on women’s rights and an imposition of the inferior political, social and economic status of women in Saudi Arabia. Even though “there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s legal and social subjugation of women is one of the most repressive in history”(Coughlin, 2006, p. 164), the reality is somewhat more complex than this.
Fulya Doğruel

5. The Impact of the Arab Uprisings on the Kurds

After unexpectedly breaking out in the last days of 2010, the Arab uprisings — or Arab Spring to use the more optimistic label — continue to have unforeseeable consequences. The effects of the first incidents moved across borders throughout the Middle East, with waves of revolt rapidly spreading out beyond the region. Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring1 when Mohammed Bouazizi, a local vendor, set himself on fire to protest the humiliating treatment he had received at the hands of the police just because he was accused of lacking any official permit to sell his fruit. His tragic reaction sparked countrywide protests in December 2010,2 with the main target of the protestors being the corruption and repressive policies of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on January 2011 after Tunisia’s armed forces refused to intervene in the protests.3 It quickly became clear that the flames of these protests were permeating the Middle East, giving birth to sudden, unexpected consequences. The people of all Arab countries, who had fallen into the hands of despotic dictatorships in the postcolonial era, made strong demands for a better life in every sense. Shortly after the Tunisian upheaval, popular protests took place in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and later Syria. These encouraging developments implicitly inspired all those subjects of North Africa and the Middle East who were struggling for a fairer, democratic society.
Turan Keskin

6. The AKP and Its Family Policy in the Re-establishment Process of Authoritativeness in Turkey

This chapter will focus on the “women and family” policies after Turkey’s 2011 general elections, when the AKP (Justice and Development Party) strengthened its authoritarian power. Depending on a self-reliance gained by increasing votes in the last three elections, the AKP had transformed its political strategy. And, instead of conciliation with other established power groups, the AKP equated itself with power.
Zehra Yılmaz

7. A Comparative Analysis of the Post-Arab Uprisings Period in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya

The uprisings that began in Tunisia in late 2010 quickly spread to other Middle Eastern countries. The emphasis during these protests was socioeconomic and political inequality. The crony capitalist policies of longstanding authoritarian regimes in these countries, which deprived the majority of people of political participation and access to economic opportunities, fueled people’s grievances. Following the manifestation of large-scale protests, first Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and then Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak had to relinquish power. As for the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, he was killed when protesters lynched him following NATO’s intervention. This wave of uprisings also affected other countries that remain out of the scope of this chapter. For instance, in Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh had to resign due to intensifying protests. While uprisings were violently oppressed in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, they caused a civil war in Syria.
Jülide Karakoç


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