An unholy trinity of formidable obstacles impedes the emergence of democracy in the Middle East, argues Michael Mandelbaum: the region’s prevailing version of Islam; the ethnic, religious, and national sectarianism; and anti-Western sentiment. A credible approach to cultivating Arab democracy must distinguish between two of democracy’s principal elements – popular sovereignty and liberty:
Liberty is, however, difficult to establish. The relevant institutions, skills, and values take time to develop and cannot be imported, ready-made, from abroad. In many countries, the free-market economy has served as a template for liberty and democracy: the practices required to operate a market economy, when transferred to the political sphere, provide the basis for democratic politics.
Market economies are underdeveloped in the Arab world chiefly because of the massive revenues that the countries of the region earn from oil.