In This Review

Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran
Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran
Edited by Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders
Stanford University Press, 2013, 312 pp

This book does not liken Iran to its ally Syria. Indeed, it seems the editors have intentionally chosen two very different regimes to study in order to understand common authoritarian techniques. Their bottom line is clear: “Authoritarianism in the Middle East will survive this transformational moment.” The contributing authors sustain that contention with considerable evidence. Their expertise in the tactics of political survival and their deep knowledge of the two countries are impressive. The basic thesis is that authoritarians in Iran and Syria can weather the daunting structural challenges they face through “recombinant” adaptations: establishing state-sponsored nongovernmental organizations to create a veneer of civil society; cooperating with some genuine civil-society groups, including religious associations; and making use of many forms of coercion, both legal and extralegal. The autocrats in Tehran and Damascus are inventive and crafty. But the two regimes offer no paradigm of autocratic survival. There is a distinct risk that in seeing the outcome of regime persistence, observers might incorrectly attribute it to a set of coherent tactics. In fact, luck and simple agility might be equally compelling factors. In Syria’s case, that luck might have finally run out.