Maria Josepha Debre


About Me 

Authoritarianism & Democratization, Regional & International Organizations, Institutional Design, Contested Liberal International Order, Middle East

I am currently a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at the Chair for International Organizations at Potsdam University, Germany

I am also an associated researcher in the ERC project "Who get's to live forever? Toward an Institutional Theory on the Decline and Death of International Organisations" at Maastricht University, the Netherlands.  

I received my Ph.D from the Free University Berlin in International Relations in 2018, where I was funded by the Research College (KFG) "The Transformative Power of Europe."  As part of my PhD research, I spent the academic year 2017/2018 as a Fox International Fellow at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. 

You can download my full CV here



My research is situated at the intersection of international relations and comparative politics. I am interested in how authoritarian regimes cooperate and the domestic and international consequences that result from this, in drivers and consequences of institutional design of International Organizations, and current challenges to the international liberal order. My research draws on a combination of quantitative research and  case-based analysis with a special focus on the Middle East and Muslim China.


My dissertation explores when and how regional organizations can be exploited by authoritarian regimes to ensure their survival. I argue that regional organiztions can empower autocratic incumbents to prevent democratic regime change by strengthening domestic survival strategies with unconditional diplomatic support, strategic information, and security resources. My argument is supported by a nested research design, combining both statistical analysis and in-depth case studies.



 Within my work for the ERC project, I examine why some International Organizations decline and die while others manage to adapt and survive and what role institutional design plays in explaining resilience. 

My second project deals with international networks between autocrats and populist leaders and examines the consequences of increased illiberal cooperation for international human rights regimes. 




Peer-Reviewed Publications

Public Affairs Commentary

Trump's 'America First' Approach has Targeted International Institutions -  But they've proved to be resilient. The Loop, (November 25, 2020) (with Hylke Dijkstra) 

How Global Efforts to Promote Regional Organizations Can Strengthen Authoritarian Regimes. Scholars Strategy Network, (June 4, 2018). 

Fatma gegen Goliath. Frauen erlangen das Wahlrecht in Saudi-Arabien. [Fatma vs Goliath. Women gain the Right to Vote in Saudi Arabia.] Mediterranes 1/2016, 40-41.

Der Club der Monarchien – Saudi-Arabiens Kampf um den Erhalt der sunnitisch-royalen Vormachtstellung im Nahen Osten. [The Club of Monarchies. Saudi Arabia’s Fight for Sunni-Royal Hegemony in the Middle East] Alsharq Blog, (Aug. 22, 2015).


Omans ungewisse Zukunft – dem Sultanat droht eine Nachfolgekrise. [Oman’s Uncertain Future - Is the Sultanate Threatened by a Succession Crisis?] Alsharq Blog, (Nov. 11, 2014).

Work in Progress

Clubs of Autocrats: Membership in Regional Organizations and Autocratic Incumbent Survival, R&R Review of International Organizations.

Autocracy from Above: Regional Organizations and Authoritarian Resilience. Unpublished Book Manuscript.

 Covid-19 policy responses by international organizations: Crisis of liberal international order or window of opportunity. under review (with Hylke Dijkstra). 

 Causes of death of major international organizations: When institutional stickiness is not enough, under review (with Hylke Dijkstra).

Conceptualizing and Measuring the Decline of International Organizations. Toward a relational view of Institutional Change. ERC Working Paper (with Hylke Dijkstra).

Authoritarian Regionalism. Paper presented at the 2020 German International Relations Section Conference Freiburg (with Daniëlle Flonk).

Overview of Courses

The EU as a Foreign Policy Actor in the Middle East

Lecturer, Free University Berlin

Summer Semester 2016

This undergraduate seminar explores the strategies and interests of the EU and its major member states in the Middle East and Northern Africa region (MENA). Based on different theoretical approaches to foreign policy analysis, the seminar addresses political, economic, cultural and security aspects of EU Mediterranean relations, and in particularly changes since the Arab Spring Uprisings in 2011.

Introduction to Research Design in the Social Sciences 

Lecturer, Free University Berlin 

Winter Semester 2016/17

This graduate seminar offers an introduction to research design in the social sciences. It covers all major aspects, from finding a topic and defining a research question, to literature review, theory development as well as a short introduction to different quantitative and qualitative methods for data gathering and analysis. The course also includes a practical component where students have to develop, present, and feedback a research design at the end of the course.

Sex, Markets, and Power 

Teaching Assistant, Yale University 

Spring Term, 2018

The courses explores variations in gender (in)equality across time and regions, addressing how biology, markets, and politics influence socio-economic status and political power of women. 
As a teaching assistant, I taught two sections of 20 students per week to review literature and lead discussions on the major debates covered in lecture. My duties also included grading of mid-term and final exams, as well as advising and grading of final papers.


International Relations: Contemporary Issues and Actors

Lecturer, Maastricht University

Period 3, 2020

This undergraduate seminar serves as an introduction to the different conceptual understandings of International Relations (IR) and specifically the types of international actors and their relationships in a number of contemporary policy areas. The course covers basic theories of International Relations as well as the role of international (governmental) and international non-governmental organizations in various issue areas such as migration, security and the transformation of global order. The course employs the problem-based teaching method. 

Introduction to Research Design

Lecturer, Maastricht University & Potsdam University 

Summer Semester 2020

Winter Semester 2020/21

This undergraduate course introduces first-year students to the basics of research design and covers central aspects of research from choosing a research question, the literature search and writing the state of the art, to theory application and methods. The course also teaches soft skills development such as reading and analyzing texts, oral and written presentation, and debate and feedback behavior.  

Regional Integration & Multi-Level Governance 

Lecturer, United Nations University Maastricht 

Spring Term, 2020

This graduate workshop explores contemporary challenges to regional integration from domestic and international actors in a globally comparative perspective. It focuses particularly on current pressures from populist parties and authoritarian leaders on regional organizations both from within the regions and from beyond by exploring integration and disintegration tendencies in Europe, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia.    


Conferences & Workshops

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Berlin, Germany

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International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Conventions – 2017-2020 [2020 canceled due to Covid]

ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops – 2016, 2019


ECPR General Conference – 2016, 2019-2020 [2020 online] 

German Political Science Association (DVPW) International Relations Section Conference, Freiburg University 2020 [online] 

Annual Meeting of the Political Science Section of the German Association for American Studies, Heidelberg, 2019

5th Joint Nordic Conference on Development Research, Copenhagen Business School, 2019

Fox International Fellowship Conference, Yale University, 2018  

German Political Science Association (DVPW) 3-Länder Tagung, University of Heidelberg, 2016   

German Association for the Middle East (DAVO) Annual Congress, University of Bochum, 2015

German Political Science Association (DVPW) Comparative Political Science Section Conference, GIGA Hamburg, 2015   


Politics and Culter (PCE) Research Cluster Meeting 'Europe and the Crisis of Rule-Based Order', January 2021 [online]

Politicologenetmaal, Workshop “Global Order in Crisis?”, Radboud University, Nijmegen, 2020 (Co-organizer) [workshop canceled due to Covid]


ERC Workshop ‘Decline and Death of International Organizations’, Brussels Campus, Maastricht University, 2020 (Co-organizer)

Maastricht-York Workshop, ‘Europe and the future of global rules and multilateralism’, Maastricht University, 2019

ISA Venture Research Workshop ‘International Organization Dissolution’, University of Zurich, 2019  

Authoritarian Politics and International Relations (APIR) Seminar, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), 2019 

Author’s Workshop ‘Regional Democracy Protection and Sanctions’, Stockholm University, 2019  

7th International Joint Ph.D. Workshop of the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies (BTS) and the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2017


Authoritarianism in a Global Age Project Meeting, University of Amsterdam, 2017