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The Middle East's Democracy Deficit in Comparative Perspective

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image of Perspectives on Global Development and Technology
For more content, please see Journal of Developing Societies.

The Middle East's democracy deficit is a product of the patterns of political and economic development in the region. It is not because the region is predominantly Islamic or is somehow afflicted by purportedly undemocratic cultures. By itself, culture is not an impediment to transition to democracy as it is subject to influences from the larger polity, especially insofar as the economy and the initiatives of the state are concerned. Instead, transition to democracy is determined by the degree of society's autonomy from the state. This autonomy may result from the empowerment of society as a consequence of economic development, or the state elite's devolution of power to social actors and classes, or, more commonly, a combination of both. Assumptions about the inherently undemocratic nature of cultures such as Islamic and Confucian ones are fundamentally invalid. The key to understanding democratic transitions lies instead in the nature of state-society relations rather than the nature of society's norms and values in themselves.

Affiliations: 1: Director of Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar; Professor of Political Science, California State University, Northridge Mehran


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