A new BPEA paper by Eric Chaney (pdf) suggests maybe not:
Will the Arab Spring lead to long-lasting democratic change? To explore this question I examine the determinants of the Arab world’s democratic defi cit in 2010. I find that the percent of a country’s landmass that was conquered by Arab armies following the death of the prophet Muhammad statistically accounts for this defi cit. Using history as a guide, I hypothesize that this pattern reflects the long-run influence of control structures developed under Islamic empires in the pre-modern era and and that the available evidence is consistent with this interpretation. I also investigate the determinants of the recent uprisings. When taken in unison, the results cast doubt on claims that the Arab-Israeli conflict or Arab/Muslim culture are systematic obstacles to democratic change in the region and point instead to the legacy of the region’s historical institutional framework.
Here is a good sentence:
…the fact that the Arab world’s democratic defi cit is shared by 10 non-Arab countries that were conquered by Arab armies casts doubt on the importance of the role of Arab culture in perpetuating the democratic defi cit.
Once one accounts for the 28 countries conquered by Arab armies, the evolution of democracy in the remaining 15
Muslim-majority countries since 1960 largely mirrors that of the rest of the developing world.