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BPEA Article

Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present


Will the Arab Spring lead to long-lasting democratic change?
To explore this question, I examine the determinants of the Arab world’s democratic
deficit in 2010. I find that the percentage of a country’s landmass that
was conquered by Arab armies following the death of the prophet Muhammad
statistically accounts for this deficit. Using history as a guide, I hypothesize
that this pattern reflects the long-run influence of control structures developed
under Islamic empires in the premodern era and find that the available evidence
is consistent with this interpretation. I also investigate the determinants
of the recent uprisings. Taken in unison, the results cast doubt on claims that
the Arab-Israeli conflict or Arab culture or Muslim theology is a systematic
obstacle to democratic change in the region and point instead to the legacy of
the region’s historical institutional framework.


George A. Akerlof

Daniel E. Koshland, Sr. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics - University of California, Berkeley

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