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How long can the Arab monarchies survive?

September 26, 2013

The “Arab Spring” and its aftermath already has toppled several autocrats and is on the verge of adding the Baathist regime in Syria to the list.  However, none of the long standing Arab monarchies have fallen in this period.   In a new report for the Brookings Institution, F. Gregory Gause argues that the monarchies will maintain their holds on power for the foreseeable future:

No Arab monarchy has fallen during the Arab uprisings, and only one – Bahrain – has had a regime-shaking crisis. These regimes have been written off for decades as anachronisms. How did they weather the region’s political storm better than their republican neighbors?

In this Analysis Paper from the Brookings Doha Center, F. Gregory Gause, III lays out the strategies that the Arab monarchies have utilized to stay in power.

The democratic wave that has swept the Arab world has put new pressure on the Gulf monarchies to pursue reform. Still, Gause writes these regimes’ hydrocarbon wealth and coalitions of domestic and international allies – their basic sources of strength – remain intact. Contrary to predictions of the monarchies’ imminent demise, then, Gause argues that these rulers are here to stay. He provides a detailed look at these regimes’ responses to the Arab Spring, including their political reforms – and whether it is realistic to push them any further.

Gause’s research shows how ever generation since World War II have been predicting the imminent collapse of these monarchies, but the predictions have been continually confounded by the resiliency of the regimes buttressed by their immense wealth, which is used to purchase the loyalty supporters and to buy off opponents.   Gause does admit that a sustained fall off in oil revenues is the one thing which could put the monarchies at risk, but dismisses the possibility of that event occurring in the near or middle terms.    If nothing significantly changes with the world’s current energy mix, he is probably correct.   But, as Gal Luft pointed out several months back, we may be on the verge of the necessary technological developments and policy changes to radically change the fuel mix in the transport sector, and that could cause a very rapid disintegration of monarchic stability.  Paradoxically, while Gause is correct that the Arab monarchies are more stable than they appear at first glance, they are at the same time less stable than he believes.

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