Democracy in the Arab World: Explaining the Deficit

Democracy in the Arab World: Explaining the Deficit

Democracy in the Arab World: Explaining the Deficit

Democracy in the Arab World: Explaining the Deficit


Despite notable socio-economic development in the Arab region, a deficit in democracy and political rights has continued to prevail. This book examines the major reasons underlying the persistence of this democracy deficit over the past decades and touches on the prospects for deepening the process of democratization in the Arab World.

Contributions from major scholars in the region give a cross country analysis of economic development, political institutions and social factors, and the impact of oil wealth and regional wars, and present a model for democracy in the Arab world. Case studies are drawn from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and the Gulf region, building on these cross-country analyses and probing beyond the model's main global variables. Looking beyond the effect of oil and conflicts, the chapters illustrate how specific socio-political history of the country concerned, fear of fundamentalist groups, collusion with foreign powers and foreign interventions, and the co-option of the elites by the state contribute to these problems of democratization.

Situating the democratic position of the Arab World in a global context, this book is an important contribution to the field of Middle Eastern politics, development studies, and studies on conflict and democracy.


When the Arab countries were still under colonial tutelage, the burning question for them was how and when to gain independence. Most of them in fact became independent only after the Second World War, and democracy did not arise as a political issue except as a potential post-independence question. However, with the exception of Lebanon and early isolated cases of democratic engagement that did not last long, Arab political regimes since independence have generally been characterized by varying forms of authoritarian rule, despite notable growth in the levels of real per capita income and levels of education.

Intermittent attempts at political reform might over time have permitted limited political liberalization, but the essential nature of authoritarian rule has not changed materially. Indeed, throughout this period Arab intellectuals and groups advocating substantive political reform have condemned authoritarianism and the absence of democracy in the Arab world. Denial of full political rights of citizens and restrictions on civil liberties and, hence, lack of representative and accountable governments, are also blamed for the failure of Arab regimes to achieve sustainable and equitable economic and social development, or to address the major issues presently faced by the Arab world, including, among others, the Palestinian question.

The primary objective of this book is to address the following important questions: why has the Arab region generally experienced what has been termed a ‘democracy deficit’ (however democracy is defined, a matter we take up below), and what explains the general persistence of this deficit over the decades since independence? A secondary objective is to discern the growth and development consequences of autocracy.

To identify the factors that explain the continuation of the Arab democracy deficit, a two-tier research approach was adopted that combines both quantitative and qualitative analyses: cross-country work followed by intensive country case studies. The cross-country work is an extended modernity regression model of democracy (measured by the widely used Polity IV index) for a global sample covering most Arab countries. It is preceded by an analysis of the crisis of Arab democracy, which draws a political framework for the penchant of Arab autocratic regimes to hold on to their rule.

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