Why Are There No Arab Democracies?

Issue Date January 2010
Volume 21
Issue 1
Page Numbers 93-104
file Print
external View Citation

The continuing absence of even a single democratic regime in the Arab world is a striking anomaly—the principal exception to the globalization of democracy. The reason for this lies with the “oil curse”: Most Arab states are so awash in cash that they do not need to tax their own citizens, and therefore the polity lacks the organic expectations of accountability that emerge with taxation. Where oil dominates, there is little wealth creation through investment and risk-taking. Oil distorts the state, the class structure, and indeed the entire incentive structure. Furthermore, external support for Arab regimes, historically coming in part from the Soviet Union but now mainly from Europe and the United States, confers on Arab autocracies crucial economic resources, security assistance, and political legitimacy.