Center for Strategic Communication

What should you be reading about the politics of today’s Middle
East, beyond (of course) the outstanding daily content on the Middle East Channel and the news and
analysis featured in the MEC Daily Brief?   The Middle East Channel Editor’s Reader — or, "Abu Aardvark’s guide to good reads on the Middle East" — is a new regular feature which
will highlight what I consider to be the best of the academic journal articles,
long-form magazine articles, policy reports and books which come across my

The MEC Editor’s
will reflect what I’m actually reading and think merits your
attention.   Some weeks that might
mean an extended book review, others a selection of journal articles.  I may write about a ten year old book
if it’s what I’m currently reading, or I may write about forthcoming academic
research.  I will particularly highlight publications by the talented
academic members of the Project on Middle East
Political Science
, which I direct, but I will try to not neglect writers
from other fields.  I can’t promise
to even try to be comprehensive — which you’d thank me for if you actually saw my desktop.  This will be a selective guide to work I found interesting for some reason, reflecting my own ideosyncratic interests and reading habits.  But please do send
me your articles and books if you want me to consider them.  And with that, welcome to…

The Middle East Channel Editor’s Reader #1 (May 16, 2012)

My Bookshelf:

Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life
, by Roger Owen. (Harvard
University Press 2012).

historian Roger Owen had almost completed a book on "Arab Presidents for Life"
in late 2010, just as several of those Presidents suddenly faced mortal
challenges.   Rather than
simply insert "and Fall" into the title, Owen chose to integrate the new developments
into a thoughtful and incisive evaluation of Arab political authoritarianism in
all its components.  Owen points
out the many ways in which Arab Presidents and Kings imitated one another, with
Presidential sons following – or attempting to follow – their fathers, and all
relying on extensive security services and webs of patronage.  His analysis of the personalization of
power challenges recent efforts to distinguish Arab monarchies from their
Presidential counterparts, and lays bare the internal logic of such
personalized security states. As an historian, Owen is sensitive, and admirably
transparent, about the limits of our knowledge about the inner workings of
these regimes.  But his brief
discussions of each country effectively convey both the commonalities and
differences across the cases.  Owen’s highly readable book serves as a
fitting requiem for a system of rule which long seemed immovable, has now
been exposed in all of its flawed brutality, but seems likely to adapt to new structural conditions rather than simply fade away. 

My PDF Reader:

for Change:  The Pitfalls and
Possibilities of First Elections in Arab Transitions
, by Ellen Lust
(Brookings Doha).  Yale University Political
Scientist Ellen Lust, who has written widely on political parties and elections
in authoritarian Arab regimes, lays out the challenges and opportunities in the
foundational elections in Egypt, Tunisia and beyond.   First elections, she warns, should be treated
differently from subsequent elections, with different objectives and obstacles,
with priority given to building a strong democratic system and addressing the
fears and uncertainty which plague any transition rather than on managing a
particular political outcome.  
Lust wrote about Syria’s
recent pre-transitional Parliamentary election
for the MEC here.

Rise of Islamist Actors: Formulating a Strategy for Engagement
, by
Quinn Mecham (POMED).  Middlebury
College Political Scientist and former State Department Policy Planning staffer
Quinn Mecham argues for a more systematic strategy for engagement with Islamist
political parties.  It should surprise
nobody that Islamist parties do well in Arab elections or more open political
arenas.  Mecham expertly lays out
the benefits and risks of engagement, and urges the U.S. to engage broadly in
order to build understanding on both sides —but to neither compromise on core
value commitments or to exaggerate their likely power. 

Transition and the Twin Tolerations
, by Alfred Stepan (Journal of
Democracy).  Columbia University
Political Scientist Alfred Stepan, one of the leading figures in the study of
democratic transitions globally, examines the relatively successful Tunisian
experience since 2011. "With secularists agreeing that Islamists could participate
fully in democratic politics, and Islamists agreeing that popular sovereignty
is the only source of legitimacy," he writes, Tunisia has been able to
avoid the violence and polarization found in some other cases.   Egyptians and others should take note.

Networks of Third-Party Interveners and Civil War Duration. Asyegul Aydin and Patrick Regan (European Journal of International Relations, 2011).  What is the likely impact of military assistance to the  opposition on the duration of Syria’s civil war?  Aydin and Regan’s 2011 article doesn’t talk about Syria directly, but it does focus on the logic and historical record of external interventions in such conflicts.  The network analysis suggests that such interventions are likely to increase civil war duration and encourage opportunistic, rent-seeking behavior among the combatants unless there is a high degree of unity of purpose and shared interest among the intervening parties.  Well worth a read, even if you have a low tolerance for math, for trying to think through the likely implications of supporting armed opposition in Syria. 

… and don’t miss these from the Project on Middle East
Political Science

Forever on the Brink

Collection of essays on the shortcomings of political reform and growing
instability in Jordan.

.  Collection of
essays on the political stalemate in Bahrain.