Sample Research Paper on Democracy in the Middle East

Democracy in the Middle East


The term ‘Middle East’ is often used to refer to the region in covering part of the Southwest Asia, Europe, and Northeast Africa. Although the countries of the Middle East region are drawn from different continents, they exhibit similar political, economic, and social organization features. For instance, most Middle East Countries, also known as the Arab countries, produce oil and are dominated by the Muslim religion. Additionally, most Middle Eastern countries have a history of autocratic rule (Kamrava 7). As a result of similarities in these different countries, scholars have often viewed the region in its singularity as the Middle East region. The area has captured the attention of various scholars, particularly due to the dictatorship form of government and increased reports of disregard of human life. This research extends the present knowledge of the fight for democracy in the Middle East.

For the past four years, the news of revolts in Middle Eastern countries has made headlines in every media platform. Within the past 4 years, the heads of state of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya have either been ousted by rebels or forced to seek refuge in the foreign country.  Heads of states of other countries such as Yemen were unable to withstand the uprising and had to step aside. As at the present, Syria is marked by bloody scenes, following the continuing fight between the government and the insurgents.  As stated by Brown (5) the uprising in the Middle Eastern countries shows that the Arab world is finally claiming freedom and democracy after decades of autocracy governments. The fight for democracy in the Arab countries has evoked heated debate among the political and academic analysts, who appear divided as to whether democratic regimes can be achieved in the Middle East. However, it is apparent that democracy is possible in the Middle East because some countries in the region have already attained fully functioning democratic system. For example, Israel has outstandingly upheld democracy despite the influence of authoritarian governments in its neighboring states. Similarly, Tunisia was finally classified as a democratic region in 2015, after ranking as a partly democratic state in the years 2012-2014. The country has been on the journey to attaining democracy since 2011. Other Countries, including Morocco, Kuwait, and Lebanon have practiced features of both authoritarian and democratic states, ranking as partly Free states. Although the majority of Middle Eastern countries is pure dictatorial, the few that have enforced freedom shows that democracy in the region is possible.

Research Question

Even though democracy is attainable in the Arab world, many are countries that have tried to enforce freedom without success. Why do democratic regimes fail in the Middle Eastern region, yet democracy is the most dominant governance system in the world? Are there specific features that hinder democracy in the region? Despite the failed democracy, however, Arab countries record a relatively acceptable rate of economic growth. Most of the Middle Eastern countries are rich in natural resources and boast of a thriving tourism industry. Therefore, does the authoritarian regime result in success in the region? The present research digs deep into the history and present status of the countries, so as to answer these questions. It reviews the available literature on democracy in the Middle East so as to arrive at an informed conclusion. Notably, the paper examines the possible reasons as to why the democratic regime fails in the Middle East, and whether the tyrannical governance dominating the region is responsible for the reported economic growth.

Review of Literatures

History of Democracy in the Middle East

Authoritarian rule and autocratic governments are not new to the people of Arab countries. As Kamrava narrates, the people of the Middle East have hardly experienced a peaceful environment as a series of military actions have hit the region from for the longest time (6). Although the countries of the Middle East region are often studied as a single unit, each of the particular countries has had a unique history of the struggle for democracy. Prior to the 19th century, the Middle East, like other regions, was ruled by various civilizations, which were not as organized as the modern forms of governance (Kamrava 8). Although scholars contend whether the region as always experienced authoritarian governance, there are proven periods of liberalism in various Arab countries. For instance, several scholars note that liberalism in Middle Eastern countries began in the mid-19th century, all the way to the mid-20th century. For example, the history of a parliamentary rule in Egypt dates back to the 1880s. Additionally Kamrava highlights that there used to be a free press and robust film industry in countries such as Libya and Egypt in the early 1900s (8). By the mid-20th century, however, military regimes began to suppress liberalist movements in the region. As Haynes elaborates, the military actions against the liberalists arose almost spontaneously in most of the countries in the region (12). By the late 20th century, almost all the Arab countries had distinct forms of autocratic regimes.

Even though the Arab countries are known for their authoritarian systems, Kamrava clarifies that the particular countries have different forms of political structure (20). For instance, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and Yemen are ruled by parliamentary government systems. However, some are autocratic, democratic or a combination of partial and autocratic features, despite the fact that they are all parliamentary republics. Additionally, some Arab countries such as Jordan and Morocco practice constitutional monarchs while Omar, Qatar, and Saud Arabia uphold traditional monarchs. There are also other distinct forms of governance, including leadership from religious leaders and military dictatorship.

Since 2011, the people of the Arab countries have shown great enthusiasm to attain democracy in their countries. As Brown (3) explains, rebels have actively engaged the dictatorial leaders in both peaceful and bloody demonstrations. The series of revolutionary protest began in December 2010 in Tunisia and quickly spread to the other Arab countries, giving rise to a wave of protest commonly referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’. Although the uprising ended in some countries such as Egypt and Tunisia by 2012, the revolt is still ongoing in other countries such as Syria. The region has been experiencing a series of coups, aimed at overthrowing autocratic regimes. As results, several tyrannical leaders have been forced out of power and various countries have changed from authoritarian to partial democratic systems. The uprising has also seen Tunisia transform from an authoritarian form of government to a democratic state.

Although the Arab Spring has led to improved democracy in the Middle East, Bellin (127) notes that the impacts of the uprising in some countries were only temporary. Following the revolt, for example, Libya enjoyed a partial democracy system in the years 2013 and 2014 following the militia defeat of a longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. However, the recent activities in the country such as the persecution of non-Muslims, shows that the country has gone back to despotism ( Similarly, Egypt appeared to be on the roadmap to democracy following the resignation of the authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and a subsequent election of the country’s first democratic president, Mohamed Morsi in 2012. Egypt experienced a system of partial democracy in the second half of 2012 and early 2013. However, Morsi was deposed in the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état after which the country went back to autocratic rules 2014 (

Reasons for Failure of Democratic Regimes

The Middle East region is among the areas in the world that has a single dominant religion. In fact, an overwhelming 90% of the people in the Arab countries are all Muslims. This religious dominance has evoked contention among the scholars, as some analysts argue that Islam is responsible for the autocracies in the Middle East.  Others argue that Islam religion is a religion of peace, and thus, do not authorize tyranny and inhumane leadership. Therefore, is it coincidental that only Muslim-dominated countries, that show disregard for democracy, liberty, and peaceful coexistence?

According to scholars, the Islam religion is not responsible for the failed democracy in the Middle Eastern region; however, countries that are divided along ethnic, religious or racial usually do not sustain the democratic system. As Fukuyama (53) explains, democracy requires a relatively heterogeneous community to materialize. It is often easy for people’s views to be compromised in a homogenous society since individuals feel tied by the distinct identity. In most of the Arab countries, overwhelming majorities are Muslim. Additionally, heads of governments in some countries are religious leaders, making it rather difficult for individual citizens to question them due to their faith.

While Islam may not be directly responsible for the absolutism in the Middle East, scholars have found that Christianity plays a role in enhancing democracy in free countries. Firstly, most of the democratic nations are all dominated by the Christian religion. Most of the countries where the majority of the people are non-Christians have often had issues with democracy even if they are not tyrants. As Fukuyama argues, democracy is based on Christian values of the Ten Commandments and the fear of God (53). For this reason, Christians exercise their faith, even in matters of political leadership and elections. They are, therefore, able to elect good leaders and can even conduct themselves ethically without any guidance based on their cultural and religious faith. As Haynes (7) elaborates, democracy gives the people an opportunity express and practices their will. In Christian countries, the will of people is shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is thus, inherently peaceful.

On the other hand, the Muslim dominated countries lack the inherent virtues that form the foundation for democracy. The constitutions of the Middle East countries are based on the sharia Islamic laws, which authorize dictatorship (Haynes 11). In Muslim communities, even the people themselves are not ready to exercise democracy. The need to achieve a free state is influenced by external forces, rather that the will of the people. Based on their religious faith, the people of Middle Eastern would be comfortable with their oppressive governments but are influenced by the exterior world (Brown 8). Among the reasons to show that the people themselves are not ready for democracy is the deposition of President Morsi of Egypt, despite having been elected democratically. Simply, the people of the Arab countries do not have the inherent grounds that make democracy work in Christian dominated countries.

Acknowledging the claim that democracy can only thrive in Christian countries since the values of fairness are based on Christian teachings is challengeable, this paper explores other pre-requisites for successful democracy that are missing in the Arab countries. Firstly, analysts state that democracy fail in the Middle East due to lack of a stable and sizeable middle-class population. The middle-class group is usually confident and can demand accountability from their political leaders. According to scholars, the active democratic system can hardly be achieved in countries with less than $6000 GDP per capita (Fukuyama 54). However, among the four non-oil producing countries in Middle East, mainly Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, only Tunisia records an annual GDP per capita of more than $6000. Therefore, Fukuyama argues that it is no surprise that the 2011 Arab Spring failed to instill democracy in the other countries aside from Tunisia (54). Similarly, Brown (13) maintains that Middle East countries lack independent middle-class population since wealth is concentrated among the few, and most often the political leaders. As Brown elaborates, most Middle East countries’ primary economic activity is the exportation of natural resources such as oil (13-16). However, oil extraction and trade is usually controlled by the government and politically influential individuals. There is a significant gap between the rich oil traders and the poor citizens who make the majority of these countries. For this reason, economically stable individuals who can actually demand efficiency in the governments.

Education and literacy are often considered as one of the utmost pre-requisite for democratic regimes. As Fukuyama (17) explains, scholars have established a link between literacy and democracy. It takes a literate population to understand their rights and express their will effectively. However, the rate of literacy level in Arab countries is wanting.  Middle East countries have the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, with only a few countries in the region that have over 90% rates of literacy. Additionally, the regions have a long history of gender discrimination in education matters, with many women unable to attain education due to misguided cultures.

Has Autocracy led to Prosperity?

The call for democratization that was marked by the 2011 Arab revolt was based on the argument that democracy is essential for peace and prosperity. For instance, the US has repeatedly stated its interest in spreading democracy in the Middle East so as to enhance the region’s peace and prosperity. Additionally, analysts have proven that the most prosperous nations are the democratic regimes. However, the above discussion shows that democratic regimes are not easily attainable in the Middle east due to lack of specific pre-requisites for democracy. Nonetheless, can autocracy system also lead to prosperity in the region?

Although most of the democratic states are more prosperous than authoritarian regimes, this research clarifies that autocracy can also lead to prosperity. For example, China is among the countries that have had a history of authoritarian governance; yet, the country is among the nations that have recorded a rapid economic growth. As Bellin denotes, China attains a 10% annual average growth income per capita (128). On the other hand, there are numerous democratic regimes, especially in the third world countries, that are still struggling with minimal income per capita growth. However, scholars concur that stable economic growth is often registered in Free states (Bellin 128, Brown 11). This concurrence does not dispute the fact that autocratic regimes have also emerged prosperous in particular countries.

Although Middle East economic growth rate has been slightly slower than that of most of the European and American regions, Arab countries also record a substantive rate of economic prosperity annually. However, scholars note that the area performs below its potential in terms of economic development. The prosperity of Middle East is mainly attributed to its rich natural resources. For instance, the region is the largest supplier of petroleum products in the world. Despite their authoritarian policies, Middle East heads of states have managed to control the oil industry, not just within the region, but also in the world. Middle East being the largest supplier of the oil products, the region is able to influence the oil and gas industry through changes in prices and production. However, the global oil and gas industry has been sustainable since the authoritarian leaders have been able to ensure regular supply of oil (Bellin 19). As a result, they have ensured economic stability, not just in their respective countries but also in the global spectrum.

Contrary to the notion that autocracy lead to economic stagnation, scholars have demonstrated that the economic stagnation in the Middle East has resulted from the continuous unrests in the region. As Bellin elaborates, the regular uprising as people try to enforce democracy has scared away potential investors, portraying the area as the unsafe business destination (37). As a result, Middle East has not prospered, as it should, considering that it has an adequate oil deposits. However, the underperformance does not result from the oppressive leadership but from the frequent insurgents in the region. Using China as a comparative example; moreover, it is apparent that authoritarian governments are not responsible for economic stagnation.


Even though democracy is possible in the Middle East, there are various obstacles that have led to continuous fall of democratic regimes in the region. One of the major hindrances is the homogeneity of the Islam religion and the influence of the Sharia law. While other challenges such as illiteracy and inequality distribution of resources may be resolved, the issue of Islam dominance cannot be resolved. For this reason, trying to enforce democracy in the Middle East is likely to remain a fruitless tussle. While acknowledging that democratic ideology ensures harmony and affluence of the nation, this paper finds that the two can also be achieved in autocratic regimes. For instance, China has thrived under authoritarian governments, contrary to the notion that dictatorship is a hindrance to economic success. For this reason, this paper suggests that global leaders should consider restoring peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, even without necessarily enforcing the western democratic agenda. Additionally, scholars have emphasized that the lack of prosperity in the region is aggravated by the prolonged unrest in the region rather than the dictatorial leadership. While some may argue that the conflicts are the results of the authoritarian rules, it is important to note that there are countries with autocracy leadership systems but with few or no incidences of violence. Therefore, violence can be avoided even in the Middle East without trying to modify the leadership styl

Works Cited

Bellin, Eva. “Reconsidering the robustness of authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring.” Comparative Politics 44.2 (2012): 127-149. DOI:

Brown, Nathan J., and Emad Shahin, eds. The struggle over democracy in the Middle East: regional politics and external policies. Routledge, 2013. Print.

Haynes, Jeffrey. Democracy in the Developing World: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Print.

Fukuyama, Francis. “Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class, The.” Foreign Aff. 91 (2012): 53. Web.

Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2015.

Kamrava, Mehran. The Modern Middle East: A Political History since the First World War. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California, 2011. Print.