I came across some research the other day which seems very relevant to the Middle East. It seeks to explain why religion is so influential in some countries but not in others:
Although it's commonly assumed (at least by atheists) that increasing wealth and all that goes with it (science, education, communication) is gradually eroding religion, there are some glaring anomalies. The most spectacular is the USA, which is both one of the wealthiest large nations and also one of the most religious.
While it's broadly true that "the more you modernise the country, the more people abandon religion", how can we account for exceptions like the United States?
The author of the research, Tom Rees, suggests that the key ingredient is "societal health", and particularly disparities in wealth:
Nations have choices over how to look after the people at the bottom of the social pile. Those nations that choose to make this a priority, which inevitably involves shifting money and resource from the rich to the poor, lower the overall levels of stress. And when you remove the stress caused by their social situation, people tend to lose interest in religion.
Curiously, in countries that score low on "societal health" it's not just the poor who turn to religion for security. The rich do too. I'm guessing here, but maybe they're worried that God won't keep them wealthy for ever.
The full paper, "Is Personal Insecurity a Cause of Cross-National Differences in the Intensity of Religious Belief?" is published in the Journal of Religion and Society.