Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. James Butterfield

Second Advisor

Dr. Mahendra Lawoti

Third Advisor

Dr. Mustafa Kemal Mirzeler


Middle east, civil society, democratization, Arab spring, regime type, authoritarianism


While the notion that civil society organizations can democratize authoritarian regimes from below has become an article of faith among many policy makers and democracy promoters, some area experts warn that practitioners and advocates should not overestimate civil society's democratizing role. This dissertation challenges a large body of scholarship on civil society by arguing that while civil society may constitute a democratic force in any given polity it may also be comprised of less democratic, even radically undemocratic forces as well. Therefore, commensurate with the research yielding that finding, this project argues that on an account of the nature of Middle Eastern regimes civil society is more often a key dependent rather than independent variable.

To that end, I empirically tested the proposition that it is the expansion of democracy that facilitates more vibrant, liberal and secular civil societies in the region and not the converse, through an analysis of the impact of the formal institutions of the state on voluntary associational participation in five distinctive Arab Middle Eastern political regimes, including Syria, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Lebanon. My expectation was to find that increased measures of democracy have a strong, positive impact on increased levels of vibrancy, liberalism and secularism in civil society and a strong, negative impact on increased levels of fundamentalism and militancy in civil society in each case study. The methodology employed was an empirical data collection process entailing a two-fold snowball interviewing strategy, in which I carried out in-depth interviews with both experts and members of civil society organizations in each country. The study found that without exception expert and activist consensus held that the formal institutions of these states had a far stronger impact on their civil societies than vice versa. However, there was not a single case where all four hypotheses I proposed were substantiated without nuance or deviation.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access