How Republics Fell and Monarchies Survived the Arab Spring

Arab republics such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya owe their existence largely to revolutionary nationalist movements during the second half of the 20th century. Although these republics resulted from popular movements, countries like Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia saw their leaders extend their rule indefinitely. Following years of suppression and economic hardship, unrest reached a boiling point and sparked a counter revolution—the Arab Spring—which called for democracy and the formation of liberal states. While revolutionary nationalism saw the nation as an undifferentiated mass, the Arab Spring stressed the role of individuals and groups, and promoted the ideas of pluralism and openness.

Revolutionary forces in the neighboring monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar were far less successful. Though some minorities—such as the Shiites in Bahrain—revolted, their movements were swiftly quashed. What made monarchies more resilient during the Arab Spring as compared to republics? To understand this conundrum, Robert Snyder offers an ideological-institutional framework in The Arab Uprising and the Persistence of Monarchy.

Snyder suggests that the fundamental reason behind the fall of the Arab republics is that which led to their original formation—revolutionary nationalism. As the leaders of the revolution became rulers, they wrote constitutions that drew on nationalist ideologies and gave supremacy to communitarian ideals over individual rights. This paved the way for state control over media, state suppression of dissent, and state regulation of the economy. In a world of increasing cooperation, their foreign policy was based on conflict through the creation of a perceived threat to the nation and its people in the form of imperialistic western powers. Even the judiciary was not independent, since emergency state security courts and military courts effectively formed a parallel legal system, which undermined the rule of law in these countries. The republics thus failed to become politically inclusive as their charismatic leaders became increasingly autocratic.

The monarchies took a strong position against revolutionary nationalism from the beginning of their establishments as States. They understood the appeal of such an ideology to their subjects and took measures accordingly. They ensured that the state and nation remained separate. They fared better than revolutionary republics by being more politically inclusive, enforcing property rights, and forging a more cooperative foreign policy.

Arab monarchies such as Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco rank higher than Egypt and Tunisia in their protection of property rights, while Syria, Libya, and Yemen are not even ranked. The above factors, combined with capital from oil exports, promoted trade and commerce with the western world.

In framing, Lisa Anderson, quoted in Snyder’s paper, points out that Arab kingdoms have continued to survive by placing ruling family members in key political and economic positions, and have thus far prevented the rise of an opposition. However, this state of affairs may not continue so long as economic shocks and anti-state actors like ISIS continue to alter the status quo. In addition to internal factors, the foreign policies of western governments, especially those of the US, have played a significant role in the survival of Arab kingdoms, as western governments have found it easier to forge regional cooperation and peace with stable monarchies as opposed to autocratic rulers.

Monarchies and republics in the Arab world approached consolidating social cooperation during their state-building phases differently. The kingdoms forged alliances with tribal leaders, traders, and other elites, whereas the republics waved the flag of democratic socialism, labeled the elites traitors, and replaced them with political elites from the ruling party. As the former created a robust network of social, political, and economic actors with the ruling family firmly at the center, the latter created a centralized structure in which a significant proportion of civil interests were not represented.

The different histories, which Snyder suggests underlie the development of countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, need to be kept in mind when making foreign policy choices. The successful creation of new republicanism in the Arab states will depend on reforms that are based on liberal principles, not on revolutionary nationalism or religious ideologies.

Article Source: Snyder, Robert S., “The Arab Uprising and the Persistence of Monarchy,” International Affairs, Vol. 91, 5 September (2015).

Featured Photo: cc/(Anton Chalakov, photo ID: 22692104, from iStock by Getty Images)

arvindilamaran@uchicago.edu'
Arvind llamaran
Arvind ('17) is a staff writer for International Affairs. He is interested in international affairs and education policy.

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