Center for Strategic Communication

It has been widely noted that monarchies have done better at
surviving the Arab uprisings that began two years ago. Three Presidents (Ben
Ali, Mubarak, and Saleh) have fallen, along with Muammar al-Qaddafi’s unique Jamahiriaya, while Bashar al-Assad’s
Baathist presidential regime faces a mortal threat.  No Arab monarch has yet lost his throne. For some analysts and
academics, this pattern suggests a fairly obvious "monarchical exception" which
demands explanation.

In August, I launched a debate on Foreign Policy about whether and
how monarchy matters
in explaining the resilience of Arab regimes. I was
not impressed. Against arguments that monarchies possess
some kind of unique legitimacy commanding the loyalty of their people, I noted
that Arab monarchies have in fact faced significant popular mobilization
over the last two years: Bahrain has had one of the most intense and protracted
uprisings anywhere; Kuwait is facing the deepest political crisis in its
post-occupation history; Jordan experienced unprecedented protests; Saudi
Arabia has had a protracted challenge in its Eastern Province; Oman experienced
unusual levels of protest; Morocco’s protest movement drove the king to adopt a
significant (if underwhelming) constitutional initiative. I concluded, "the
monarchies look like fairly typical Arab authoritarian regimes, surviving
because they enjoy greater financial resources, less demanding international
allies, and powerful media assets to perpetuate their legitimation myths."

The responses I got over email, over Twitter, across blogs,
and at various academic conferences convinced me that the monarchy question
remains an open one, however. It is an important debate for political
scientists and analysts, with a wide range of arguments and evidence to
consider. Over the last few months, I have reached out to a number of leading
scholars to weigh in on the question of Arab monarchy. I asked them to move
beyond simple binaries ("monarchy does or doesn’t matter") to explore the
specific mechanisms by which it might matter, to weigh them against competing
explanations, and to show how monarchy operated in particular cases which they
knew well. Those articles, along with some particularly relevant older Middle
East Channel essays, are now collected in today’s new POMEPS Brief, "The Arab
Monarchy Debate

The debate is an interesting one. Daniel Brumberg pushes us
to focus on how different regime types might have comparative advantages in the
specific "sustaining
mechanisms" of Arab autocrats
. Michael Herb makes a guarded case for the distinctive
of family monarchies, a unique mechanism for leadership
selection explored
as well by Gregory Gause
. Sean Yom points instead to money, security
forces, and foreign patrons, which the monarchies enjoy for reasons that have little
to do with monarchy
. If these more material explanations are correct, then
the monarchs may be in for a rough ride, as Christopher
Davidson argues
, since many of those assets are wasting ones. In particular,
the economic
made to ride out the storm may not be sustainable, Steffen
Hertog notes.

What about specific countries? Recent POMEPS Briefs have
looked in depth at the situations in Jordan,
Bahrain, and Kuwait.
This collection adds several reflections on Saudi Arabia (by Madawi
, Stephane
, and Toby
); Oman (Ra’id
); Jordan (Nicholas
); and Morocco (Mohamed
). These closer looks are particularly helpful at identifying the
differences in the nature of monarchy across the region: Jordan’s monarchy simply
operates differently, is viewed differently across society, and has a different
set of sustaining mechanisms compared to the ruling families in Saudi Arabia,
Qatar, or Kuwait. Monarchs with parliaments have different political horizons
than those who rule without elected bodies. For instance, those monarchs with
small populations and virtually unlimited financial resources don’t seem to
have that much in common with their larger and poorer cousins.

It would be foolish to deny the observable reality that thus
far all the Arab monarchs have survived where other regime types have failed. But
that has to be a starting point, not a conclusion. From a political science
perspective, that should force us to look harder at the specific mechanisms of
control, which may or may not sustain specific monarchs in the future. Belief
in a "monarchical exception" is useful for the monarchs in their efforts to
deflect domestic challenges, reduce expectations of potential change, and
maintain international support. It may also contribute to a certain complacency
among their foreign allies, who may be relieved at not seeing the need to plan
for the possible loss or transformation of such useful partners. I hope that
this collection of essays helps to advance this important ongoing debate. Download POMEPS
Brief #16 "
The Arab Monarchies Debate."