Untangling the Mayhem: Crises and Prospects of the Middle East

by Radka Havlová (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 266 Pages


The volume discusses the recent developments in selected countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Theoretical chapter presents the internal and external factors influencing the development and democratization processes. Based on these factors the authors analyze in depth the recent development in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. The authors demonstrate that the recent development in these countries varied significantly, mostly due to the difference of the historical, political, economic, security or religious conditions in the relevant countries.

Table Of Contents

← 6 | 7 →


The authors wish to thank the Faculty of International Relations of the University of Economics, Prague, for its financial support of this publication by the internal grant No. IG212016 “Crises in MENA and southwest Asia: democratisation, militancy and security”. A special thanks also belongs to Dr. Jeremy Alan Garlick for his helpful comments. The authors are also grateful to all colleagues who provided help and their comments to the presented text as well as to all those who supported the authors during the process of writing. ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →


Current events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are not only reshaping (political) orders in the region but are also having a deep impact on the existing international order. The current situation in the MENA region has led to political and military interventions as well as increased security measures. Furthermore, certain militant groups have emerged in the MENA region, namely, the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, and affiliated groups in Egypt, Algeria and Libya which have complicated the situation in the region further by challenging state authority, forming parallel state-like apparatuses and carrying out transnational attacks in different parts of the region as well as in Europe. Deteriorating living conditions have forced millions of people to flee and take refuge in neighbouring states such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Consequently, the study of changes in the MENA region as well as southwest Asia has an enormous importance not only in terms of adding value to the existing literature but also in terms of exploring the new and broad horizons of understanding the complexities and consequences of the recent events in the region.

This book focuses on the region of the MENA in its wider perception. The World Bank defines the MENA region as the area of Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), and Yemen. In order to illustrate the recent development and democratization in this region, Turkey has here been added as one of the substantial players in the region. With the exception of Israel, all the above-mentioned countries are characterized by the strong role of Islam in the majority of citizens’ religious life. Hence, this book focuses on the recent development and the (de-)democratization processes in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Yemen and Turkey.

We discuss the recent developments in the region with the objective of providing a complex analysis of the factors which have influenced these developments. The book captures the situation in the respective countries as of the spring 2017, and therefore further development in the individual countries is no longer reflected and explained in the individual case studies. The book presents the current developments in each of the respective countries in their complexity, and it pays attention to internal as well as external factors shaping the countries. It also uses the democratization process as an analytical framework, without the normativity attributed to it by some of the Western literature. Our primary objective ← 9 | 10 → is to provide a comprehensive discourse about the recent development in the selected countries of the Middle East. However, as many of the countries are deeply influenced by historic roots of the conflicts, some analyses such as Yemen or Iraq also discuss the historic roots of the conflicts.

The first chapter is devoted to the theoretical and methodological framework of the book. Based on a wide range of literature, the chapter aims to provide the reader with important information about the MENA region and the theory of democratization. We propose three groups of factors, which may have a strong influence on democracy.

The case studies which are included in this book follow the structure outlined in the theoretical chapter. Looking at the selected Arab countries of the MENA region and Turkey, the authors focus in particular on the recent developments in the selected countries. Many of these countries have gone through the democratization process, yet the outcomes are rather unclear and vary significantly in the individual states.

The countries selected for analysis represent the variety of the MENA region. Geographically North Africa is represented by Libya and Egypt while the other case studies reflect the situation in the Levant. The authors have also tried to capture the development in countries with different religions, and although in the majority of the analysed countries Islam is a dominant religion, there are also significant Christian minorities, for instance in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine or Egypt. Although the majority of analysed countries are Arab countries, Turkey stands out as a non-Arab country of the region. In addition, the authors have attempted to capture the recent development in countries which have gone through a foreign intervention, such as Iraq or Libya, as well as those without an outside intervention. Finally, the authors present the different outcomes of the recent developments ranging from states which are in fact in a state of war, such as Yemen, Syria or Iraq, to countries in which the development has been relatively more peaceful (Palestine, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon).

The chapter on Egypt deals with the massive protests of the Arab Spring in 2011, which brought an end to the almost thirty years long rule of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, promising a path towards more freedom and democratic reforms. However, the following development has showed that the transition to democracy in Egypt is rather problematic due to various factors, which are often deeply rooted in the preceding regimes.

Concerning Iraq, the chapter presents the case study in a broader historical context as the Arab Spring did not significantly alter the course of the recent developments; in fact, the structural and political roots of the current disintegration ← 10 | 11 → of the country go quite far back in history. Unfortunately, the country did not enjoy many peaceful years in its modern history and the state of its society and economy illustrates well the mistakes the international community as well as its own governments committed in the past.

The chapter on Lebanon deals with its unique political system that is constructed according to the religious mosaic of the country. However, the question of that diversity being a curse or a blessing remains unanswered as it is, simultaneously, at the base of the Lebanese multicultural society and its daily struggles. Lebanon was not directly affected by the Arab Spring itself but by the overall situation in the region, which hit the Lebanese political, economic and civil reality.

Libya is an example of a foreign imposed regime change hidden within the stream of the Arab Spring that led to chaos and destabilization in the country. Western countries led by France and Great Britain succeeded in overthrowing the dictator, but did not think about what would follow after Gaddafi was gone. Democratization in this case led to destabilization that is continuing even six years after the regime change. The chapter on Libya focuses on the causes of this chaos and analyses the potential future development in Libya.

Palestine represents a special case in which the very existence of Palestine as an independent state is challenged by some members of the international community. The chapter analyses the recent developments linked to the Arab Spring which did not really lead to major changes in Palestine as more significant changes have been occurring within Palestinian society itself.

As for Syria, it is in the spotlight of the international community as well as the battlefield of superpowers and different major players in the game of the region’s geopolitics. The internal frustration that flourished in 2011 within the Arab Spring quickly escalated and turned into a civil war giving space to terrorism and extremism. The chapter focuses mainly on the political and religious background to the current situation, in addition to the international dimension of the conflict.

When analysing the MENA region, it is also necessary to mention Turkey, to which we have devoted a chapter analysing the recent development in this country. Turkey under the rule of incumbent Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) was presented by some as a model country for Islamic states. Economically on the rise, seemingly combining moderate Islam with democratic reforms and aspiration for EU accession, Turkey seemed an ideal partner. Nevertheless, recent developments show in a clear light that the reforms undertaken turned from democratization to de-democratization and that steps towards authoritarianism could be, even if more secretly, detected in Turkey years before. ← 11 | 12 →

The concluding case study of Yemen’s recent developments unfortunately does not finish the book on a positive note. Yemen, similar to Syria, because of its internal developments, became a scene of a proxy war between regional and international players and is currently suffering from a grave humanitarian crisis. In this case, discussion of democratization efforts needs to make way for conflict resolution as well as the possible post-conflict reconstruction.

The authors are aware of the fact that Middle East is a very popular region in academic literature, and there is a wide range of literature discussing the situation in the states we analyse in this volume. In the chapter dealing with Egypt, a variety of sources have been used, such as academic books, analyses and articles published in professional journals, data and reports from non-governmental organizations (Freedom House, Transparency International, etc.) as well as data from the World Bank or the UN. Some of the most used volumes and analyses include the works of Esposito, Sonn, and Voll (2016), El Medni (2013), Laub (2014) or Trager (2015, 2016, 2017).

Iraq’s chapter draws on the existing academic literature as well as World Bank or UN data. When analysing the 1990s humanitarian crisis, extensive studies by Geoff (1998) and Shehabaldin and Laughlin (1999) are used, the current political disintegration of the country is illustrated through authors such as Gerges (2016) and Baxter and Akbarzadeh (2008).

The chapters about Lebanon and Syria use all sorts of literature in several languages, particularly in English, French and Arabic, which provides a large scale of information from different points of view. For Syria, reports by the Carnegie Middle East Center, studies by Fabrice Balanche, and monographies by Baron (2014) and Erlich (2014) were used. As for the Lebanese history and political system, they were illustrated in the literature of Corm (2003) and Messara (1994, 1997). In addition, data about the refugees were found mainly on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) websites. Finally, information about the civil society and media were drawn from different analyses and articles from several local and international sources such as the Washington Institute, the EU and Naharnet.

As for Palestine there have been several analyses published mostly online and in professional journals dealing with the recent development in the territory, such as the ones of Aronson (2011), Baroud (2012), Dessi (2012) or Finkelstein, Mounin and Stern-Weiner (2013); however, a comprehensive analysis of the situation in Palestine based on the complex criteria defined in our volume has been so far missing. Regime change in Libya is mostly studied from the perspective of causes and process (Landen, 2012; Terrill, 2015) and in terms of contrast between ← 12 | 13 → Gaddafi’s regime and chaos that which has evolved since his fall (Hamid, 2016; Mattes, 2016). For explanation of the regime change it is necessary to work with online resources, such as news portals (Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters), statistics (World Bank, IMF) and also with quotations and evaluations of politicians on the international scene (Barack Obama, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy).

There is a growing body of literature on recent developments in Turkey, such as Rodriguez et al. (2013), yet rarely are those put into complex relations and/or comparison with the developments in the rest of the MENA region, which should be the contribution of the presented publication. The very recent affairs, such as the attempted July 2016 coup, are presented mostly in online analysis and, with the rare exception of Caǧaptay (2017) lack deeper explanation regarding the roots of the present developments and the similarities and differences to happenings in the neighbouring MENA region.

Yemen’s chapter is quite specific as its history and development have been well-documented in the literature. However, the country is currently in a state of war and undergoing a serious humanitarian crisis. Hence, the works by Phillips (2011), Lewis (2015) and Carapico (1998) have been employed, as well as various news feeds, in order to analyse the current on-the-ground situation.

The authors nevertheless feel that a detailed analysis of the recent developments in the selected MENA countries based on a set of the same criteria applied to all the states is currently missing. The authors thus hope that after reading this edited volume the reader will have a better understanding of the current development in selected countries of the MENA region. And although the analysis in the book is not very encouraging on the whole, it is, the authors believe, necessary in order to give the reader a sense of the immensity of the problems facing the region and what would be required to solve them. The authors hope that by analysing the issues in depth the reader can understand the variety and complexity of the development within the MENA region and the main challenges the countries are currently facing. ← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 →

Kristýna Stejskalová and Karolína Najmanová

Factors influencing democratization in the MENA region

Democracy and the Middle East are two terms that were for many centuries hardly related to each other. At the end of the 20th century, two controversial experts, Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, stood out of the crowd and called attention to the fact that the 21st century could bring a new perception of international order and conflicts. Huntington believed that after the end of the Cold War, conflicts would appear not just between states, but rather between different cultural and religious identities that would clash.1 His strongest opponent, Francis Fukuyama, claimed that history was coming to the end as the Western liberal democracy had become the final form of government, and this marked the endpoint of the sociocultural evolution of mankind.2

An increasing number of countries have transformed their form of government into democracies since the end of the Cold War.3 From 2010 to 2012, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region experienced the so-called Arab Spring, which has the analogy of a clash between Islamic religion and the Western system of values with democracy as its highest good. The problematic process of democratization in the MENA region could therefore be understood as a clash between the theories of Fukuyama and Huntington. Nevertheless, both these theories have been challenged over time and we are reflecting on these challenges in this chapter. As this book demonstrates, the process of democratization in the MENA region is a complex issue that needs to be analysed from several points of view.

Although the theoretical discussion starts with the well-known work of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, it then devotes substantial attention to challenges to both these approaches. The specifics of the MENA region applied to theoretical approaches are also taken into account in this debate. The result of this approach is a set of factors which are perceived as influencing the democratization processes, although to a varying degree. These factors then serve as a framework to be applied to the case studies presented further on in the book. As a result, the ← 15 | 16 → book presents the reader with a complex analysis of contemporary development in the MENA region.

Democratization in a particular country may have its individual course influenced by a variety of aspects. Nevertheless, it is possible to study the common features of democratization that have an impact on the process of transition to democracy globally as well as specifically in the MENA region. These features are analysed in this chapter and allow us to explain the causes, process and consequences of the transitions taking place in the MENA region. In the following case studies, each author decides which factors of democratization are crucial for understanding of the democratization process and the recent development in the particular country. Analytical attention is devoted to the recent processes in the countries as seen through the prism of (de)democratization.

1.  Characteristics of the MENA region

This book focuses on the region of the Middle East and North Africa in its wider perception as explained in the introduction. In order to create a good basis for future analysis, it is important to provide the reader with the characteristics of the region. Information on economic, social, political and security conditions will be given throughout the case study chapters. However, this part defines the concept of a state and how it is perceived in MENA countries. The state concept in the Arab world is based on two important elements – religion and language; both are shared by the countries and create a sense of collective identity. In fact, considering the stated preconditions, all MENA countries, with the exception of Israel, Turkey and Iran, could be taken as one nation-state; by ‘nation’ is meant the Arab nation called umma.4 This term refers to people who have at least one common characteristic, such as religion, place, or time.5 Egypt, which pioneered secularization and Europeanization in the 18th and 19th century,6 has a constitution declaring that its “system [is] based on … the country’s historical heritage and the spirit of Islam. The Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation and work toward total Arab unity…”.7 This example clearly shows that the meaning of ‘state’ in the Arab world is interconnected with Islam and the only existing nation is the Arab nation. In contrast, Western civilizations understand the term ‘state’ as a secular ← 16 | 17 → unit, which is based always on an individual nation. This different point of view causes many misunderstandings, as this book will demonstrate.

At this context, the great debate between wataniyya and qawmiyya concepts has to be mentioned. Wataniyya means loyalty of people to their national territory (homeland, native country) called Watan. It basically refers to state-based nationalism, for which one could also use term patriotism. In countries such as Egypt, Syria and Turkey can be found political parties, which use Watan in their names.8 On the other hand, qawmiyya means ethnic based nationalism. The world Qawm could be translated as a tribe or ethnic nationality. This term has been also used for pan-Arab nationalism, which is a reason why it is often connected with calls for creation of revolutionary Arab unity, represented for example by Gamal Abdel Nasser.9

There is no consensus on how to define and measure democracy. Lacking consensus is not only a matter of academic debates, but the definition remains unclear for US policy makers who promote this regime type around the world.10 As aptly noted by Horowitz 11the world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined — and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit”. Generally, the definitions of democracy can be divided into two groups according to a ‘thin’ or minimalist concept and a ‘thick’ or wider concept.12 The ‘thin’ concept includes the immensely influential academic definition of democracy referring to Robert Dahl’s concept of polyarchy. According to Dahl, 13polyarchy is based on eight institutional requirements: all adult citizens have the right to vote (1) and are eligible for public office (2), political leaders have the right to compete (3), elections are free and fair (4), citizens can form and join political parties and other organisations (5) and are free to express themselves on all political issues (6), diverse sources of information exist and are protected by law (7) and government policies depend on votes and expressions of preference (8)”.

Definitions based on the ‘thick’ concept also work with the dimension of political rights and civil liberties, but are broadened by the aspect of society and political culture.14 For the purpose of this book we use a definition of democracy as a “…form of governance with limited power of executives who are controlled by ← 17 | 18 → other institutions. Governments are selected directly or indirectly through competitive elections with open entry for candidates”.15

A comprehensive list of factors for measuring democracy is provided within the concept of the Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. These factors are focused on measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political culture and are based on Dahl’s concept of polyarchy.16 The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall index of democracy is the simple average of the five category indexes. The methodology is based on a combination of a dichotomous and a three-point scoring system for the 60 indicators. According to the overall index outcome, countries are then divided into four categories. The Democracy Index offers four categories of regimes: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes.17

Full democracies (scoring 8–10) respect civil liberties and basic political freedoms, governmental checks are functioning, while the judiciary is independent with enforceable decisions, and the media is diverse and independent.18 Within the MENA region, there is no regime ranked as a full democracy.19 Flawed democracies (scoring 6–7.9) have, in comparison with full democracy, an underdeveloped political culture with a low level of political participation, and sometimes problems with the functioning of governance.20 Within the MENA region, Tunisia and Israel are the only countries ranked as flawed democracies.21 Hybrid regimes (scoring 4–5.9) face problems with the fairness of elections, accompanied by governmental pressure on political opponents, non-independent judiciaries and a very high level of corruption.22 Within the MENA region, there are four countries ranked as hybrid regimes: Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Iraq, and Turkey as one of the studied cases.23 Authoritarian regimes (scoring below 4) are typical for dictatorships, with limited political pluralism, abuse of civil liberties, and non-existent or unfair elections. Media are often state-owned and controlled by the ← 18 | 19 → ruling regime, judiciaries are not independent and censorship is very common.24 Authoritarian regimes are most common in the MENA region, and are currently present in Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Syria.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Democracy Egypt Iraq Lebanon Libya Palestine Syria Turkey Yemen
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien. 2018. 266 p.

Biographical notes

Radka Havlová (Volume editor)

Radka Havlová works the Jan Masaryk Center for International Relations of the University of Economics Prague, Czech Republic. She is specialized in ethnic conflicts and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Title: Untangling the Mayhem: Crises and Prospects of the Middle East