Lebanese American University


Political theories and their discontents

The Department of Social Sciences hosts a seminar comparing political systems in global perspectives.

The event served to position LAU as a platform for Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, participants said.

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On May 7, the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar entitled “Comparing political systems in global perspectives: What about the Middle East and North African region?”

Dr. Tamirace Fakhoury, assistant professor of political science, moderated the event as panelists explored the predilection of political scientists to exclude the MENA region from dominant political theories.

“What I really enjoyed at LAU was the open and democratic discussion both from the faculty members and the students,” said keynote speaker Dr. Hans Illy, professor of political sciences and public management at the University of Konstanz and at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute in Germany.

The United Nations Democracy Ranking annually rates its member states, but Illy raised the provocative question: “Is the world moving toward more democratization or less?” Adding that there are inherent ambiguities that exist when attempting to categorize political systems.

Panelist Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, assistant professor of political science, echoed Illy’s position: “There is no such thing as simple categorization, the world has become politically messy,” she said.

In the MENA region, factors such as tribalism, sectarianism and other similar identities compete with the state for citizens’ fidelity, according to Skulte-Ouaiss. This defiance of traditional categorization is often attributed to Arab exceptionalism and to the “culture” of the region — an argument Dr. Bassel Salloukh, associate professor of political science, wholeheartedly rejects. “Weak or overburdened bureaucracies, unsustainable fiscal mechanisms and external variables can explain the political trajectory many of the states in the MENA region have taken,” he said.

Dr. Makram Ouaiss, chair of the department of social sciences and assistant professor of political science, encouraged political scientists to focus on civil society — where the first tremors of revolutionary uprising occur — to better predict the political trends of the region.

The workshop ignited the idea that general theories of comparative and transition politics merit closer examination, and that the MENA region is a critical gauge of such theories.

“The seminar showed that the MENA region is a potentially fruitful arena for research in understanding political theory,” said political science and international affairs student Leen Aghabi. “Studying the dynamic political changes occurring in the region in a university located in the heart of the Middle East gives us a unique perspective, especially at a time when the region is looking for new models.”

In a similar vein, Fakhoury highlighted the urgent impetus for fresh thinking, and the importance of adopting a global perspective. “The event served to position LAU as a platform for Euro-Mediterranean dialogue, where academia and policy making are constructed,” she explained.

“In the light of the Arab uprisings, it is pivotal to capitalize on our academic space at LAU to explore how the latest happenings in the MENA adjust the lens of democracy studies,” she added.


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