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BPEA Article

Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present

Eric Chaney


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.