For most of the developing world, no such right exists. In theory, everyone is protected by law. But in practice, the process of acquiring a legal licence is so riddled with bribery and bureaucracy that only a small minority can afford to go through with it. To de Soto, this explains much of world poverty. Step out of the door of the Nile Hilton, he says, and you are not leaving behind the world of internet, ice machines and antibiotics. The poor have access to all of these things if they really want it. What you are leaving behind is the world of legally enforceable transactions of property rights. These traders do not really break the law – the law breaks them…

A few weeks ago, de Soto told the US Congress that the West has fundamentally misread the Arab Spring and is missing a massive opportunity. Bouazizi, and the five Egyptians who self-immolated, spoke for 380 million Arabs who lack property rights or any legal protection. This applies to Britain: if we were to become champions of these people, and demand the extension of property rights in return for our foreign aid, it could be the most effective anti-poverty strategy ever devised. And it might make us millions of new friends in the Arab world.

This is not a new idea, but the revival of an old one. As Margaret Thatcher once put it, “being democratic is not enough – a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right”. Freedom, she said, depends on the strength of the institutions: law and order, a free press, the police and an army that serves the government rather than supervises it. History is proving her right – in Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and now in Egypt. The façade of democracy can be horribly deceptive; it is the strength of institutions that decides if nations rise or fall.