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Oil, Islam, and the Middle East: An Empirical Analysis of the Repression of Religion, 1980–2013

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 November 2017

Daniel Albertsen
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Indra de Soysa
Norwegian University of Science and Technology


There is a lively debate on the relative impacts of Islam, oil wealth, and Middle Eastern institutional legacies regarding democratization and the spread of liberal values. We examine this issue using religious repression. We argue that oil-wealthy rulers use religious monopoly to control dissent. Our results show that oil wealth increases religious repression above the effects of Muslim dominance and a host of sundry controls. The Middle East and North Africa region seems to matter more than Islam. Interestingly, the conditional effect of oil and the Middle East and North Africa region is positive on religious freedom. The data suggest that several Gulf monarchies have more religious freedoms than other Muslim dominant states, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, or even Israel and Jordan. The worst religious repression is among oil producers in Central Asia. The results are robust to a host of intervening factors, different measures of oil wealth, alternative data on religious freedom, and estimating method.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2017 

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We are extremely grateful to Matthias Basedau and Jonathon Moses for useful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the article. Comments received from two reviewers and the editors were unusually insightful and encouraging. We thank Jos Elkink, Krishna Vadlamannati, and the seminar participants at the Department of Political Science at University College Dublin for many useful insights. The usual caveat applies.


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