Is it good to be king in MENA?

The answer to this question, “is it good to be king,” depends on where you’re king…

The Arab Spring upraising of 2011 lead to the toppling of authoritarian regimes throughout the region. Simply looking at the aftermath of these revolutions would indicate that it is not good to be king in the Middle East and North Africa. However, this is a surface level analysis of the issue.

Looking at countries with monarchies who have withstood the recent turmoil in the region there is an air of commonality between them. First, many are extremely wealthy states. This is almost entirely due to oil and other hydrocarbons. (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates). Others rely on international support and the view of the monarchy as being a stabilizing factor. (Morocco, Jordan)

The benefit these monarchs have over other regime types is the ability to pay off citizens who are unhappy. Regimes are much more capable of dealing with issues when they have money that can solve the problems. The best example of this would be the demand for jobs in the Middle East. Regimes with large amounts of disposable income have the ability to create more public sector jobs, thus satisfying the demand. People are much less likely to rebel against a government that benefits them than one that cannot.

Playing factions off of one another has also been widely used and very successful in Saudi Arabia. The country is defined by a group of tribes and the royal family uses this to balance the power and ensure there are no threats to the throne.The case of Morocco is interesting because there were widespread uprisings during the 2011 Arab Spring movement, yet there was no regime change. The monarchy in this case was viewed as a stabilizing factor in promoting change however the monarch took each individual uprising, usually isolated to a city and dealt with them on an individual basis. This ensured that there was no unified goal between the groups and therefore he could concede small issues while maintaining power and avoiding major issues and most importantly, avoid major loss of power. 

Similarly,  King Abdullah of Jordan is able to maintain power despite public dissent due to being not only a relatively stable and somewhat liberal regime but also for its regional importance in international politics. This allows the monarchy to stay in power and allows it to persist despite protests.

Further examples of countries where it is good to be king include Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. All of these countries have the distinct benefit of having relatively small native populations and massive resource wealth. This allows them the ability to literally pay off the citizens. Another benefit the monarchs of these countries have is the support of GCC states who benefit from the stability provided by a monarchy. This was demonstrated when Saudi Arabia lent its military to put down the revolution in Bahrain.

It may be good to be king in a select few countries within the Middle East and North Africa, however, it is a very arduous task that requires a huge amount power balancing and comes with the price tag of constant threat.


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