Tuesday, January 8, 2013

End of Arab Monarchies?

Arab Sprang springs along - washing away the old school dictators and Presidents for Life - yet what about corrupt Royalty in Ray Bans?

Are the monarchies immune?

Not anymore! Le Monde has a great Le Piece about Le Monarchies in Le Turf betwixt Suez and Indus
Arab monarchies. This may seem contradictory. After all, no kingdom fell during the Arab Spring, and indeed a common refrain in the western press has been that, compared to their republican counterparts, the autocratic monarchies of the region have proven exceptionally resilient in the face of social unrest. 

The reasoning encompasses two arguments: these royal regimes enjoy a deeply rooted sense of cultural legitimacy that resonates throughout their societies. Unlike other authoritarian leaderships, they retain traditional acceptance with the public given their presence before or during anti-colonial struggles. Also, they are more adaptable, having a very flexible set of institutional tools with which to manipulate politics that go beyond mere repression.

However, the monarchies are running on borrowed time, and most are in worst straits than a decade ago. In Bahrain, for example, a mass uprising was stopped only through the combined efforts of the national security forces and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s military intervention. Morocco faced serious protests as well. There, the promise of constitutional revisions temporarily quieted public anger, but by accepting integration without meaningful political reform, the Islamist Justice and Development Party — the face of parliamentary opposition — now risk losing credibility like the rest of the political class. Moreover, the urban-rural divide is no longer salient; dissent is now everywhere, and demands for change have cut across old class and provincial lines.

Like Morocco, the Saudi monarchy is thickly embedded in society. Blessed by geology, it has used its enormous oil revenues to offset overt opposition with new welfare and development programmes, which has allowed the regime to defer more fundamental structural reforms. The opposite is true in oil-rich Kuwait. There, constant street protests against corruption and royal meddling have undermined the Al-Sabah family and the December 2012 elections were boycotted by the opposition. This tug-of-war between the monarchy and parliament has culminated in a critical juncture: either the regime accepts a prime minister who is a commoner, and thus beyond the emir’s control, or it must shut down parliament and backslide to authoritarianism at a very high cost.

In Jordan, the monarchy has become suffocated by two complementary forces. The Islamists want to preserve the monarchy, because the collapse of monarchical rule would allow Israel to portray the East Bank as the new alternative homeland for all Palestinians and thus justify the annexation of the whole of the West Bank. Yet they also desire constitutional monarchy, with greater political freedoms. The monarchy’s Bedouin tribal bedrock has become restless due to rising unemployment and corruption, which allows them to accuse the regime of favouring the wealthier Palestinian majority.

Vested interests run deep in monarchies, because dynastic families develop resilient connections to influential social and political groups that provide support in exchange for patronage, such as merchants, businessmen, farmers, tribes, and the ulama. Drastic reforms that replace absolute monarchy with real parliamentary governance would undercut not just royals but their commoner clients too. 

Second, the post-colonial and post-cold war history of the region shows that monarchs have an aversion to transforming their executive power into moral authority; they will only consider constitutional monarchism after exhausting all other options and strategies. So without a concerted popular challenge, kingships have no incentive to bring anything more than cosmetic reforms to the bargaining table.

Once championed as moderate and adaptable regimes, the Arab monarchies now risk squandering a golden opportunity. Though they would have to surrender much power in a democratic transition, their institutions also have much to contribute in helping unify their societies during times of crisis and spare future conflict and instability.

 Pic - "Ever notice 2013 kinda looks like 1913?"


Julie said...

Arabs will pay sooner or later.