Government and International Relations Honors Papers

Document Type

Honors Paper


Alex Hybel

Publication Date



Democracy is at a crossroad. At the start of the twenty-first century analysts noted that though in the 1920s only a very small number of sovereign states were led by regimes that had the basic components necessary to qualify as a democracy, by 1990 that number had increased to 69, and by 2012 to 117. Between the years 2005 and 2013, however, political rights and civil liberties underwent substantial setbacks. Of no less significance, hopes that Middle Eastern states would begin their transitions toward democracy as a result of the spring revolts of 2011 experienced a very short lifespan.

My study is guided by three interrelated objectives. My immediate goal is to explain why Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon have not been able to create legitimate states and stable democratic regimes. To explain their failures, I conduct two separate analyses for each country. I start with an examination of each state’s history, beginning shortly after the Arab Conquests in AD 632, and ending at present day. After documenting the historical trajectory of each state, I propose that the colonial history, ethnic and religious diversity, population composition, and the presence or absence of natural resources have distinctly undermined the capacity of Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon to create legitimate states and stable democratic regimes.

My second and related objective is to evaluate the viability of existing theories of state creation and democratization and to propose alternative arguments through a comparative analysis. The Egyptian case is unique because of the three states examined the presence of a highly homogeneous society should have made it the most likely to create a democratic regime. And yet it did not. I attribute Egypt’s failure to the fact that throughout much of its history it was dominated by a foreign power. This nearly uninterrupted period of foreign domination resulted in the creation of a political culture that continues to value stability in the form of an authoritarian regime over the creation of a democratic regime. The Iraqi case likewise highlights this correlation, but also demonstrates that foreign powers cannot export democracy, nor can democracy be imposed on a divided population without an extensive process of reconciliation. Lebanon’s troubled experience with consociational democracy, in turn, underscores the difficulty of developing a democratic regime that engages the separate factions of society, but does not trend toward political deadlock.

My third objective is loftier and not immediately attainable. The comparative analysis of the states mentioned above provides important insights that could ultimately help produce a generalized theory of democracy for the Middle East. These generalizations could help lay the foundation for the examination of other Middle Eastern cases and enable future analysts to determine the extent to which the generalizations drawn in this study are applicable to other cases.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.