Common Interests, Closer Allies: How Democracy in Arab States Can Benefit the West

64 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2012 Last revised: 27 Apr 2013

Date Written: July 1, 2012


This Article analyzes the likely impact of democratic change in Arab countries on critical interests of Western countries, by synthesizing empirical social science, social science theory, and policy analysis. It concludes that democratization of Arab countries would further core Western interests in the region. Specifically: Democracy would have a stabilizing impact inside Arab countries, reducing the risk of civil war and internal terrorism in the long run. These risks would likely fall more quickly in countries that were less autocratic in the first place, such as Egypt and Tunisia. Interstate conflict, which this article’s original empirical findings show to be frequent in the Arab world, would likely diminish in the long run as more Arab states became democratic. Terrorist attacks against Western countries would be less likely to originate in Arab countries if the latter became solid democracies. Western countries’ fundamental interests in the region align more closely with those of Arab publics than those of Arab dictators, so Arab citizens are likely to be better partners for the West. This benefit will not materialize automatically, however - Western countries must begin taking Arab citizens' preferences more seriously.

The article also considers whether Islamists elected to lead new Arab democracies would use state power to harshly oppress women and minorities. It concludes that this is unlikely, although not out of the question. Furthermore, continued autocracy is likely to strengthen Islamists’ support, so Western countries should not hesitate to support democratization out of concern over what Islamists might do in office.

Western countries should consider supporting democratic change in Arab countries, but proceed carefully, considering the nuances of each specific context, the complexity of processes of political change, and the limits of their own power.

Keywords: foreign policy, internal stability, democratic peace, terrorism, Islamism, Muslim Brotherhood, Arab countries, national interests, human rights, Egypt, politics

Suggested Citation

O'Connell, Jamie, Common Interests, Closer Allies: How Democracy in Arab States Can Benefit the West (July 1, 2012). Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 341, 2012; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2134441. Available at SSRN:

Jamie O'Connell (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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