2016/ 2017

Mahnaz Zahirinejad

EUME-A.SK Fellow of the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung

The Middle Class and the Rentier State in a Changing Middle East: Iran's Case and Egypt’s Prospects

Previous Fellowships: 2015/ 2016

Mahnaz Zahirinejad graduated from Tehran University and holds an MA degree in International Relations. From 2006 to 2010, she was a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University and received her PhD degree after defending her thesis “Iran’s Energy Policy towards China and India: A Comparative Study”. Since then, she has been a researcher at Iran’s Foreign Relations Council in Tehran, which is a non-governmental institute. She spent the academic year 2011/12 at the Warsaw University as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2012, she was a Visiting Professor at the Jagiellonian University, where she taught courses on the contemporary Middle East. Since November 2012, she has been employed as a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures, Polish Academy of Science. She has continued to study Middle Eastern politics focusing on the rentier state – middle class interaction, as a subject related to democratic development in the region. She is the author and co-author of two books on the Middle East and has published many papers and articles in this area. Her new book on the middle class in Iran will be published soon.

The Middle Class and the Rentier State in a Changing Middle East:  Iran's Case and Egypt’s Prospects

The rise of a middle class has been an important factor in societal change, political transition and the transformation from authoritarian to democratic regimes in the developed countries. It can be assumed that the rise of the middle class is also a prerequisite for changing and creating a real democratic future in the Middle East. However, in the cases of Iran and Egypt, the transformation of an old and the emergence of a new middle class was a result of socio-economic developments such as the formation of rentier states. The new middle class that emerged in rentier-state regimes is dependent on the rent and the state and is therefore vulnerable. However, the new middle class turned revolutionary (Iran 1979, Egypt 2011) and grew into a perceived source of threat to ‘supporters’ of the system. Despite some attempts for democratization in these countries, hybrid regimes were ultimately established. Due to the disadvantages of the rentier state, there are numerous possibilities of an emerging authoritarianism. However, it seems that the strong resistance of the middle class has been an important obstacle to authoritarian desires of a rentier state. Thus, the present research is aimed to analyze the possibilities of democratization under hybrid regimes with focus on characterizing a rentier state and the role of the middle class in the Middle East countries, particularly Iran and Egypt.