About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

90 Foreign Aff. 2 (2011)
Will Oil Drown the Arab Spring: Democracy and the Resource Curse

handle is hein.journals/fora90 and id is 778 raw text is: Will Oil Drown the Arab Spring?
Democracy and the Resource Curse
Michael L. Ross

Even before this year's Arab uprisings, the
Middle East was not an undifferentiated
block of authoritarianism. The citizens
of countries with little or no oil, such as
Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and
Tunisia, generally had more freedom than
those of countries with lots of it, such as
Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, and Saudi
Arabia. And once the tumult started, the
oil-rich regimes were more effective at
fending off attempts to unseat them.
Indeed, the Arab Spring has seriously
threatened just one oil-funded ruler-
Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi-and only
because NATO's intervention prevented the
rebels' certain defeat.
Worldwide, democracy has made im-
pressive strides over the last three decades:
just 30 percent of the world's governments
were democratic in 1980; about 6o percent
are today. Yet almost all the democratic
governments that emerged during that
period were in countries with little or no
oil; in fact, countries that produced less
than $ioo per capita of oil per year (about
what Ukraine and Vietnam produce) were

three times as likely to democratize as
countries that produced more than that.
No country with more than a fraction of
the per capita oil wealth of Bahrain, Iraq,
or Libya has ever successfully gone from
dictatorship to democracy. Scholars have
called this the oil curse, arguing that oil
wealth leads to authoritarianism, economic
instability, corruption, and violent conflict.
Skeptics claim that the correlation between
oil and repression is a coincidence. As Dick
Cheney, then the CEO of Haliburton,
remarked at a 1996 energy conference,
The problem is that the good Lord didn't
see fit to put oil and gas reserves where
there are democratic governments.
But divine intervention did not cause
repression in the Middle East: hydrocar-
bons did. There is no getting around the
fact that countries in the region are less
free because they produce and sell oil.
Oil has not always been a barrier to
democracy. Until the early 1970s, oil-
producing countries were no less likely


MICHAEL L. Ro ss is Professor of Political Science at the University of
California, Los Angeles, and the author of the forthcoming book The Oil
Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development ofNations.

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most