Some have questioned whether the Arab monarchies are “exceptional” in their stability during the current tumult in the Middle East. This assessment seems to be reasonably accurate as demonstrations are taking place in Kuwait and Jordan.
Another article on this topic opens noting the obvious paradox, “While popular uprisings rocked the autocratic republics, not a single ruling monarchy fell. Opposition stood quiet in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while Oman and Saudi Arabia saw only isolated agitation. Popular reform movements mobilized in Jordan and Morocco, but they fizzled out. Ongoing protests in Kuwait reflect a longstanding tradition of civic activism and political contestation that far predates the Arab Spring. Only Bahrain experienced new large-scale unrest, but military intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ended the troubles”.
He argues “reality two hard strategic factors best explain the resilience of royalism: oil and geopolitics”. Yet at the same time he dismisses the cultural aspect of monarchy which ties the monarch directly to the people, as has been said here before. The most obvious, even extreme, example of this is Saudi Arabia where the monarch is seen as a direct link to Allah/God. Therefore, to overthrow King Abdullah would be to overthrow God. Such a tactic is not new, the Russian Emperors deployed a similar tactic with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church.
He goes on to argue that “The most popular explanation is that absolute monarchism resonates with the religious and tribal values of Arab culture, and that therefore enjoys legitimacy. Ethnocentrism aside, this is a circular argument. The absence of revolution cannot mean legitimacy, for by that definition all regimes are legitimate until the day they collapse. If legitimacy means the lack of popular revolt, then many monarchies already fail this litmus test”. While his point about lack of revolution and legitimacy is correct it would be a mistake to ignore other elements such as doing what is sometimes unpopular but what most do not expect ordinary politicians to do as a result of their “legitimacy” coupled with their “mandate”.
He goes on to argue that “Some scholars believe that kings have the unique capacity to halt public anger by imposing liberalizing reforms and engaging public demands. Yet having the institutional means to pacify opposition does not guarantee thedesire to do so”. He then adds that “ Another argument concerns the institutional practice of dynasticism: royal families can stick together and monopolize state resources, thereby ensuring a united front. However, the same unity can also make kings and emirs beholden to powerful hardline relatives, who fear losing status and wealth if reforms become too bold. In recent years, the kings of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait have all learned this hard lesson”. Yet leaving Bahrain and Kuwait aside, Saudi Arabia is changing, it would be hard to argue otherwise, though some of tried. The change might not be fast but change is happening under King Abdullah who is trying to balance a conservative young populace with a moderate middle age segment.