Are Middle Eastern monarchies more stable than republics in the region?

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Over the past year, the Middle Eastern region has received significant attention from both the policy makers as well as political scientists particularly with regard to the political orientation of the government. More importantly, the region’s economic development has been the other main focus of the researchers. The Arab spring and the numerous faint prospects of democratization of the monarchies in the region have served to accentuate the significance of the Middle East. While there are numerous monarchies in the region, there are also numerous republics in the region. While democratic governments are found in most countries today, the monarchies comprise of more than 40% of the world today (Cheibub, Gandhi & Vreeland, 2010).These two forms of governments have demonstrate considerable differences in the manner in which they are governed and the stability of these governments. As such, this research study seeks to explore these two types of governments in the Middle East region. The objective is to evaluate whether the monarchies in the region are more stable than the republics.

The hereditary succession of governmental power and the practice of the absolutist personal rule has a significantly long tradition in the Middle East. In most monarchies in the Middle East, the term Malik was mainly used to refer to the king. However, until the twentieth century, the people of the Middle East were highly opposed to the term as it was perceived as being un-Islamic and mostly viewed as being a secular term. In fact, the term was viewed as a caliphate (Lewis, 2000). However, this saw a significant change especially after the self-declaration of Sheriff Hussein as the king of Hijaz. Particularly, this was done in order to emulate the European Monarch who since the expansion of the European Monarch was held with high regard as a symbol of potency and high standing (Ayalon, 2000).

As was explained in the above introduction, the Middle East region has received much attention from both the policy makers as well as the political scientists over the past number of years due to its consistency in monarchical government. The oil export from the region accounts to approximately 40% of the global oil market (Rumsey, 2012). Similarly, the war on terror that has been primarily led by the United States has taken a large degree in the region (Burnell and Schlumberger, 2010). The Arab Springs and the numerous prospects towards the democratization of the monarchies in the Middle East region have only served to accentuate the importance of the Middle East region in the global politics. With regard to this context, knowledge on the attributes of the monarchical regimes and the republic regimes would be significantly beneficial to understanding the region.

Not only is understanding the general patterns in the stability of these countries important, but the monarchical and the republic regime types at first glance responded differently to the Arab spring. Following the major wave of protests in Tunisia in the late 2010 that led to the send-off of the long time serving president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, turmoil spread all through the region. However, every single instance of civil war and toppled autocrats, severe unrests has occurred in most of these new republics (Yom and Gause, 2012).

In addition to studying the main patterns in the leadership of the Middle East countries, understanding the authoritarian as well as the democratic regimes in their own right is also significantly important. However, similar to the democratic regimes, the authoritarian regimes also considerably differ from each other (Geddes, 1999). However, the differences and the dissimilarities between the different authoritarian regimes have received significantly less attention as compared to the democratic regimes. Institutions such as the parliament and national events such as the elections are often assumed to have no function or impact beyond the provision of regimes that have a democratic appearance (Lust-Okar, 2006). Furthermore, if such institutions and activities are awarded much attention from the research point of view, the research primarily focuses its attention on what impacts that these activities and institutions might have on the probability of democratization thus ignoring the consequences of these institutions on these nations (Lucas, 2004). The study of the monarchies as one of the main types of authoritarian regimes will makes a substantial contribution into the understanding the international relations.

According to the existing literature, a regime may be defined explicitly as a set of structures, processes and procedures that determine both the formal as well as the informal rules of the political processes of a country (Remmer, 1984). There are primarily two types of regime namely the authoritarian as well as the democratic regimes. According to the definition provided by Alvarez et al. (1996), democracy is a form of regime that is defined by a form of contestation. A republic is a form of governance in which some government offices, particularly the highest governmental offices, are completely taken as a consequence of some contested elections. In this understanding, in order for an election to be considered contested for, it must fulfill three main criteria. First, the election must provide a chance, however minute the chance is, that the incumbent lose the election, the winner must take the office that is being contested for and the elections must be regularly held.

On the other hand, monarchies do not conduct elections neither are government positions contested for. A monarch is defined as an individual who initially assumes the title of a king and takes the governing power or is replaced on the basis of hereditary succession (Cheibub et al., 2010). Norris (2008) on the other hand defines a monarch as any form of government that has the following three characteristics. First, the governmental power is centralized on the ruling monarch. The power to govern the specified country or region is based upon the ruling monarch meaning that the ruling monarch has the supreme power over all the decision making that may be required on issues that pertain to the country. Secondly, the succession of power is based on dynastic inheritance. In most monarchies, only the members of a particular family, primarily the male members of the family, can assume the governmental power in the country. The power succeeds from one male member of the royal family to another male member of the same family. Finally, the monarch cannot be deposed over his will on a particular issue. The monarch remains the sovereign power of the nation and his decision pertaining a particular issue that affects the country cannot be questioned.

Similarly, the definition provided by Hadenius and Teorell (2007), a monarch is an individual of royal descent who inherits the governing power in accordance to the traditions or the constitution that governs a particular community. Hadenius and Teorell (2007) also explains that in order for a regime to be considered a monarchy, the monarch must exercise real power over the region of reign. Based on the above definitions to the term monarch, there are numerous characteristics of monarchs that can be explicitly identified. First is that the dynastic succession of power does not simply stand for or mean the transfer of power from one individual to another but rather succession based explicitly on kinship based on the tradition and constitution of the specified country.

Even with the above definitions to the term monarch, there are cases that raise issues regarding their worthiness to be termed as monarchies. One of the most unclear case is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Though the United Arab Emirates will be considered monarchies based on the definitions provided by Cheibub et al. (2010) and Hadenius and Teorell (2007), Norris (2008), with his definition, would not consider it a monarch. Although the ruler is termed the president and is reelected after every five years of leadership, tradition dictates that the position must be held emirs from Abu Dhabi, which is actually a lifetime leadership position (Lucas, 2011). According to Davidson (2008), the ruler ship of Abu Dhabi remains synonymous especially with the presidency if the United Arab Emirates. This means that even with the leader being titled the president, the UAE meets all the conditions of a monarch. Similarly, Samoa would also be considered a monarch until the year 2007. Between independence in the year 1962 and 2007, the two heads of state were both heads of the most prominent families in Samoa (Laracy, 2008).

The main issue that needs to be clearly assessed in the issue of governance is the issue of which one, between a monarch and republic, is more stable than the other.  According to the research studies by Marcus, Islam and Moloney (2009) and Menaldo (2012), some of the determiners or consequences of political stability of a country employ composite and uni-dimensional indices to measure the level of instability of the country. However, in the discussion on which between a monarch and a republic is more stable, we will focus on stability that is based on four main dimensions of stability. These includes dimensions such as the frequency of politically motivated war and violence, protests of mass civil, government instability and regime instability. According to Jong-A_Pin (2009), these dimensions have been selected as the main measures of stability based on the recommendations and the discussion of Klomp and de Haan (2009).

Although the Middle East region has experienced a number of challenges, the monarchies have presented themselves as being more stable than the republics in the area. Moreover, the monarchies have presented themselves as being stronger than the republics in the region. A closer view of these is during the Arab spring, which was a series of protests which sought to transform the monarchies into republics (Ulfelder, 2005). According to Guzansky (2014), the Middle East monarchies have demonstrated themselves in a favorable manner towards examining the actual happening in the Arab world, since they offer their people with appropriate welfare and stability. The failure of the Arab spring to increase the participation of the citizens in national decision making, improve the standard of living of the citizens and to meet the main expectations have acted to mute the momentum of the Arab Springs. This thus removed the threat to the existence of the monarchies in the region.

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More important to the stability of the Middle East monarchies is that they enjoy international support from other internationally recognized nations and institutions. The fifth fleet of the U.S. A is situated in Bahrain while the super power’s Central Command is located in Qatar. The Middle East monarchies are the world’s leading sources of oil and their territories have been observed ad proved to sit on the largest reserves of oil and gas (Richards and Waterbury, 2008). The cost of instability of these monarchies for the western countries is thus much higher than that of changes to the governance regimes in countries such as Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Syria, some of the known republics. The outcomes have been that the increasing and continuous Shiites repression have only draw weak and insignificant support from the western powers (Fawcett, 2009).

For most of the autocratic rulers of the great monarchies, their formation and creation of both internal as well as external coalitions of support through the revenues that are generated from the oil reduces the repression and the creation and chances of success of international opposition (Gause, 2013). In this understanding, the past two decades have seen an increase in the number of monarchies exploring for connections to the global energy market with the objective of creating a web of international connection and relation in order to maintain stability in their countries. However, other than the oil money, there are other numerous factors that have been central to the stability of the Middle Eastern monarchies. The society perception of the people of the Middle East has also played a significant place in ensuring the stability of these monarchies. The monarchies are perceived as the most natural and perhaps the most appropriate governance in the Arab world (Guzansky, 2012). The Arab society and to a larger extent the Middle East societies are tribal thus making it easier for the rulers to maintain a high contact with their subjects. In states such as Saudi Arabia, the connection between the ruler and the subjects is obtained through the majlis, which are essentially tribal councils (Buzan and Gonzalez-Pelaez, 2009). These councils usually hold conferences in which representatives from the royal family listen to the requests of the people to their government. As a form of rule in the Saudi Arabia, the access of an individual to the ruler is perceived as being greater than in societies that are not tribal (Guzansky, 2012).

In general, in the view of the tribal monarchies, loyalty first is offered to the king and then to the royal family. It is after this that loyalty can be given to the nation state (Zubaida, 2009). In some cases, the monarchial leaders will seek to maintain a distance between them and the political theatre thus maintaining their legitimacy. An example is the case of Oman. Sultan Qaboos could easily send home one of his ministers in response to the critics from the general public. This is in comparison to other monarchies such as the Saudi Arabia in which the royal family holds most of the public offices in the government. Based on this understanding, monarchy has become the acceptable form of stable governmentin the Arab world. In fact, in countries that have experienced upheavals such as Libya, there have been discussions on the possibility of creating constitutional monarchies follow the failure of developing and establishing stable republics (Cheaib, 2014).

The tribal societies of most of the Middle East nations and the legitimacy obtained from the doctrines by the religious orientation of the region enable for the royal families to hold and maintain reign of the government, even in cases where it does not guarantee it. The sizes of the royal family and perhaps its presentation in the different spheres of life also facilitate the preservation of stability in these regimes. However, a closer look at the royal family in Saudi Arabia, its size involves many princes who have all been in the struggle for leadership thus a negative impact to the royal succession of government and the stability of the government (Guzansky & Goldman, 2012). Additionally, the religious leaders in most of the monarchical countries, the most potential opposition to the traditions and operations of the government, have been co-opted in order to operate under the sponsorship of the kings (Halliday, 2005). The religious establish has been manually set to serve the state and ensure the legitimacy of the rulers. As such, religious monarchs find it easy to cope with the Islam radicalization than the secular republics thus increased instability in the republics in the Middle East.

Comparing the monarchs and the republics in the Middle East, the monarchs have considerable advantages and benefits than the republics. This is primarily because of the ability of the monarchs to rap themselves easily in Muslim and tribal traditions (Ben-Dor, 2000). While the republics fight to ensure that the leaders in the country work according to what the citizen wish, there sprout opposition to the government which are then used by foreign as well as local powers to destabilize the sitting governments.   However, due to the numerous oppositions to the monarch form of governance, the monarchs themselves have lowered their confidence in maintaining their leadership of the countries. As such, the monarchs, as is the case for Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have established numerous policies and reforms from the cash grants that have been offered to them and hikes in the wages of the people towards establishing development projects and the creation of jobs for the people. The logic under implementation is considerably simple. Economically empowered and stable societies do rarely revolt. Secondly, those of the society who revolt can easily be condemned. Libya, one of the most powerful monarchies in the world till the death of the leader, Qaddafi, can be observed as one of the most appropriate examples (Norton, 2004). According to Onn (2013), Qaddafi was pulled out of power despite the oil riches that his country enjoyed perhaps due to his recession from investing in the petrodollars that raised considerable opposition to his policies.

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In the view of the continued upheavals of the regimes in the Middle East region, the question of stability of the newly created and the existing republics in comparison to the long lived monarchies have remained to be timely. Even though it may seem difficult to predict on the stability of the monarchies in the future times, especially following the increasing fight against leaders who retain power for long times, it can be comfortably be stated that in comparison to the republics in the same region, monarchies have maintained stability and peaceful coexistence of their people (El-Katiri, 2013). However, it can be clearly stated that the greatest threat to the stability of the Middle East monarchies is the change in their governmental and leadership arrangement particularly due to the decline and huge drops in the oil prices worldwide.

The Middle Eastern monarchies have retained their stability and peace primarily because they sit on massive amounts of wealth that enables them to buy off both their internal as well as external opponents and thus win both internal as well as external support. However, the monarchial arrangement did not assist a number of monarchies survive the 20th and the 21st centuries movements. As the international community seeks to transform the states such as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq and others from monarchy towards republics, instability has set in as characterized by massive protests, civil wars and the lack of stable political leaders. Similarly, the level of opposition in most of the previous monarch have led to the development of instability in most of these countries. As such, it is clear that the Middle East monarchies appear to the world as being most stable as compared to the republics and the region as a whole. The fact that leaders are only from a specified royal family have enabled the existence of governments without oppositions thus enhancing the stability of these nations.

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