A puzzling issue for those of us who study the modern Middle East is the slow—and in some instances nonexistent—progress toward more open and inclusive political systems. Why does authoritarianism persist in the Middle East? Why have regimes in many parts of the world, from East Europe to Latin America and elsewhere, made successful transitions from authoritarianism while the Middle East has lagged behind? Is the Middle Eastern exceptionalism likely to endure?
What makes these questions more paradoxical is the presence of a number of democrats and reformers in the Middle East, as well as human rights organizations and civic groups, that attempt to provide a check on abuses of power and try to promote political reform. Moreover, there are regimes such as Israel and Turkey where democratic political systems, with limitations, exist and function reasonably successfully. Although in a few other polities (Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, Kuwait, and so on) semi-regular competitive elections for high offices are held, exclusionary tactics are used routinely to keep some individuals and groups from becoming active players in the political arena.