The Missing Link? US Policy and the International Dimensions of Failed Democratic Transitions in the Arab World



In contrast to the hopes of some US observers, the so-called ‘Baghdad Spring’ of early 2005 did not mark the beginning of an era of sustained political reform in the Middle East. In an attempt to explain the resilience of authoritarian governance in the region, this article aims to demonstrate the insufficiencies of external democratisation efforts that rely on a crude reading of the ‘modernisation’ school of thinking and ignore the insights of the ‘transition’ school with regard to the international dimensions of democratisation. Case studies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two countries sharing close strategic relationships with the United States yet differing in the socio-economic foundations of authoritarianism and experiences with managing external and domestic calls for political reform, demonstrate that the unwillingness of the United States to condition its support for regional partners on human rights concerns constitutes one of the main reasons for the Arab world's ‘democratic exception’.