Event Highlight: Authoritarian Leaders of Asia and The Middle East

On February 15th, Michael Green, Director of the Asian Studies Program led a panel conversation with Joseph Sassoon (Associate Professor of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies) that included Sinan Ciddi (Executive Director of the Institute of Turkish Studies) and Dennis Wilder (Managing Director for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues) about authoritarianism and authoritarian leaders in the 21st century. Drawing from their regional expertise and practical experiences, the panelists tried to develop a common answer to the question of how authoritarian leaders hold on to power.

In East Asia and the Middle East, harsh dictators have maintained power in spite of internal disruptions, the end of the Cold War, and other shifting global trends. When North Korea’s Kim Jong-il died, experts and scholars who predicted the end of the Kim regime were rebuffed by the stability of Kim Jong-un’s rule. When the Arab Spring swept the Middle East and Syria broke into a civil war, the world waited for Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power, but seven years later Assad is still firmly in power. Meanwhile, "soft" authoritarian countries like China, Iran, and Turkey, have moved even further away from an open society as they continue to tightly control free speech, cultivate personality cults, and dispute popular elections. Does this mean authoritarian leaders are learning to backpedal or buck the democratizing trends of globalization, or are these leaders getting better at isolating themselves from the global community?

The full audio of the discussion is available below:

This panel discussion was co-hosted by the SFS Asian Studies Program and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. It is made possible, in part, by a Department of Education Title VI grant to support Georgetown University's National Resource Center - Middle East & North Africa.



Michael J. Green is the Director of the SFS Asian Studies Program and has served as Chair in Modern and Contemporary Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy and Associate Professor at the School of Foreign Service in the Asian Studies Program. He joined the faculty in January 2006 after serving as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council Staff and in prior positions at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Department of Defense, MIT, and Johns Hopkins SAIS. He is currently also Senior Vice President and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; a Trustee of The Asia Foundation; member of the Advisory Board of the Center for New America Security; and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group and the Council on Foreign Relations, in addition to other advisory and editorial boards. Dr. Green is also the author of the recent release By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power In the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (Columbia University Press, 2017).


Joseph Sassoon is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University and holds the al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World. He is also a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Sassoon’s book, The Iraqi Refugees: The New Crisis in the Middle East, about the Iraqi Refugees, (London, I.B. Tauris, 2009) is a comprehensive study of the Iraqi refugees and the impact of their displacement on their home and host countries after the 2003 invasion. In 2013, his book Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the prestigious British-Kuwait Prize for the best book on the Middle East.

His most recent book is Anatomy of Authoritarianism in the Arab Republics (New York: Cambridge University, 2016). Sassoon completed his Ph.D. at St Antony’s College, Oxford. and has published extensively on Iraq and its economy and on the Middle East.




Dennis Wilder has had a distinguished career in the U.S. Government, especially in advising various agencies to help shape U.S. policy toward East Asia. Professor Wilder served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asian Affairs on the NSC from December 2005 until January 2009 in the administration of President George W. Bush. Previously, he worked at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1980 as a China military analyst in the Office Strategic Research in the Directorate of Intelligence. From 1995 until 2005, he served as the Chief of China analytic studies in the Directorate of Intelligence, Office of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and was awarded the Director’s Award by George Tenet. Professor Wilder was also a Visiting Fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Professor Wilder received his Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) degree from Georgetown University in 1979. He also received a Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations in 1979 to work on the East Asian Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator John Glenn. He was also a recipient of a European Union Distinguished Visitors Grant. He is a graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan and spent a year studying Mandarin Chinese at the Yale-in-China Program at New Asia College on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Wilder served overseas in the U.S. Consulate-General in Hong Kong from 1992 to 1995.


Sinan Ciddi is an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy. He obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 2007 in the field of Political Science. Ciddi continues to author scholarly articles, opinion pieces and book chapters on contemporary Turkish politics and foreign policy, as well as participate in media appearances. In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities at Georgetown, Ciddi also serves as the Executive Director of the Institute of Turkish Studies.

Ciddi was born in Turkey and educated in the United Kingdom. He was previously an instructor at Sabanci University between 2004-2008 and completed his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the same institution between 2007-2008. Distinct from his articles and opinion editorials, Ciddi’s book titled Kemalism in Turkish Politics: The Republican People’s Party: Secularism and Nationalism (Routledge, January 2009) focuses on the electoral weakness of the Republican People’s Party.

Between 2008-2011, he established the Turkish Studies program at the University of Florida’s Center for European Studies.