Theresa May confirms to exit as PM on June 7
24 May 2019 – 15:42 | No Comment

After the UK Parliament rejected her Brexit plans for the third time, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has decided to step down as leader of the Conservative Party.
She announced her departure after talks with Graham …

Read the full story »

Energy & Environment

Circular Economy

Climate Change


Home » International

Surviving the Arab Spring: the Legitimate Regime

Submitted by on 06 Oct 2011 – 15:22

King Abdullah bin Abdul AzizRichard Rider, Editorial Reseacher, Government Gazette

Amidst the toppling of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, four countries appear to have weathered the storm. The long established monarchies in Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman draw their legitimacy through myriad cultural and historical values, which enable them to adapt to social pressures, unlike the purely authoritarian political regimes in Libya and Egypt. The key to survival seems to be legitimacy.

As the reforms, protests and revolutions in the Middle East continue into a ninth month the initial momentum is starting to dissipate. The world is watching in anticipation for events to unfold. However, amid all this excitement and upheaval, which heralds the beginning of a new political era in the Middle East, several regimes appear to have emerged relatively unscathed from the Arab Spring – Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Oman. Whether they have emerged completely intact is beyond the scope of this article, but their apparent robustness is worth further reflection.

When regimes, one by one, felt the force of a politically motivated public, it seemed as though the entire region would be engulfed in an increasingly popular uprising. The protests in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Oman have been similar to others in the region, as they strove to achieve political liberalisation and social and economic prosperity. Yet the scale of these protests has been minimal by comparison and has been effectively checked by the ruling elites.

Moreover, these regimes were not entirely dissimilar to those in neighbouring states; they have limited or no political freedom (in 2011 every country in the region, bar Israel was deemed either ‘Part Free’ or ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House) and their human rights records are far from exemplary. Yet despite these similarities, the localised movements in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Oman failed to gain the momentum achieved by similar uprisings elsewhere in the region.

So why have these regimes managed to survive in an increasingly hostile environment?

The answer lies not in the protests themselves, but rather in the nature of the regimes and the leading figures within the fabric of the ruling elite. Whilst on the surface both types of regime have similarly low levels of political participation and social freedom, the respective ways in which they maintain this control vary greatly.

The regimes of Egypt and Libya, for example, were born out of popular uprisings; their leaders doggedly forged ‘artificial’ national identities based largely on the cult of personality. Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria have in the past relied upon suppressive tactics to quieten dissent and halt political liberalisation. For example in 1982 a popular uprising in Hama, Syria, was crushed resulting in the reported deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians.

In contrast, the monarchies of the Middle East have relied on ‘legitimacy through myth’ – they have created a traditional cultural, political and social ideology based upon a shared heritage. In this way legitimacy is reinforced through association with shared values. In other words, the monarchies form part of their national identity. An obvious example is the monarchy in Morocco, which claims direct decent from the Prophet Mohammed. In this way King Mohammed VI is not just the political head of state but also a significant religious figure. The legitimacy of the monarchy is inextricably linked to a much deeper sense of cultural identity than the purely, or at least ostensibly, political authoritarian regimes in Syria, Egypt and Libya.

The traditional legitimacy of Middle Eastern monarchies extends far beyond the political boundaries that ultimately undermined the regimes of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. For example, when the protests spread through to Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, there were very few, if any, calling for the removal of King Abdullah Al Saud, King Mohammed VI, King Abdullah II or Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

Indeed, the principal demand directed towards the regimes was that the monarchies should relinquish some of their powers of influence within government – demands that were far less dramatic and consequential than those faced by President Assad or President Saleh. In fact, if anything, these demands provided the ruling elite with the opportunity to champion the protesters’ causes. King Abdullah II of Jordan wasted no time in seizing the initiative. Instead of ignoring and then crushing the voice of popular reform with brutal efficiency he has begun to instigate reforms that many hope will bring about a significant redistribution of political power. King Abdullah II is able to cede certain aspects of his authority without compromising his legitimacy to rule because his authority is entrenched in areas other than political control.

The status of these leaders as cultural icons as well as political institutions has meant that the regimes have managed to position themselves vocally on the side of the reformists, disengaging from the stale governments that caused the initial unrest. In stark contrast, the authoritarian regimes were unable to disassociate themselves from the corruption, precisely because they sat on top of society rather than formed a central part of it.

Ultimately the regimes in Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman have survived these past months due to their ability to adapt to the changing situations and separate themselves from the political institutions. Through careful political guile they have positioned themselves on the side of the reformers. The question now is whether this is enough to prevent the fates that befell the Libyan and Egyptian regimes, come a second wave of protests.