If you are tempted to accept the Arab exceptionalism point of view in the debate over democracy, or subscribe to the notion that Islam is a threat to Western civilization, this excellent collection of essays will encourage thoughtful reconsideration. This is not to say that the authors present a case for smooth democratic transitions in the Middle East or the compatibility of Islam and democracy -- many are skeptical on both points. But they do tend to situate the problems of the Arab world in a context where they can be understood as comparable to those of other parts of the world. Several authors examine the issue of pacts as a way of working out rules of the game before elections are held; another looks at the role of oil rents and taxation as distinctive issues in setting the terms of debate between the state and its citizens. Most of the focus is on the Arab world, but attention is also given to Turkey and Iran. Several of the essays have been translated from French in a particularly opaque style, but they are all thought-provoking.