Democratization in the Arab region: The role of geopolitics and origins of political change

ERF’s workshop and policy seminar on “The political economy of transformation in the ERF region” kicked off with its first session dedicated to discuss the rise and fall of representative political institutions in the region on the one hand, and the factors that brought about political and economic change in the region on the other.

In his presentation, Sami Atallah (Lebanese Center for Policy Studies) shed the light on the importance of historical geostrategic routes from India to England and how it affected the rise of contemporary political institutions in the Middle East. According to him, a glimpse at the countries on the geostrategic route, and their comparison to the rest of the world (except Europe and North and South America), shows how countries on the route are more authoritarian than other countries which are not geographically on the route. By going back to history, in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt, Sami argues that British interference in the political institutions, which derived from their need to secure trade, was detrimental to the evolution of political representative institutions in the region. As a matter of example, the British intervention to remove the Consultative Council in Egypt in 1866 or to prevent the creation of a Consultative Council in Dubai in 1930 affected the rise and evolution of political representative institutions in both countries. Introducing democratic institutions in such countries, which are on the geostrategic route, was much harder in the aftermath of their independence.

Read the paper “Connecting England to India: How Geostrategic Routes Shaped Political Institutions in the Middle East

Watch our interview with Sami Atallah

Looking at social orders, Hadi Esfahani (University of Illinois, USA) presented a new framework aiming at providing a better and more comprehensive understanding of the factors behind political and economic developments in the region.

In his paper entitled “What drove changes in political settlement in Iran and Turkey“, Hadi uses the Iranian and Turkish experiences as a stepping stone for an interesting theoretical analysis of the incentives of the current political and economic changes in the Arab countries. He also investigates the factors that have prevented economic, social and political development in the countries of the region. According to him, this new framework enables an explanation of how rents are distributed, what role violence has in rents distribution, and why some groups get a bigger share of rents than others.

Watch our interview with Hadi Esfahani

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