The Tradeoffs of Monarchical Systems: Why Do They Last? Why Not?

Public outrage and rebellious feelings are not the end all be all for the life of monarchies. In the West, we often associate mass resentment towards government policies with a swift overthrow of the current system, especially when it comes to monarchies. In MENA, this is clearly not the case. Several monarchies have persevered through policy decisions that have angered the populus, though not always by the same means. On the other hand, some monarchies have fallen, whether by circumstances or an insufficient strategy. The next logical step is to uncover which factors have produced these differing results.  

As already established, public outrage does not automatically result in a fallen monarchy. However, this is often the first step in its collapse. What is most important from there is whether the population sees the monarchy as responsible for the undesirable situation. In other words, is there another entity that they can hold responsible for the government’s actions? In the case of non-GCC remaining monarchies, they have established the symbolic position of prime minister. The prime minister has little control over policy details, but they act as a face to the government and therefore receive the brunt of criticism. Under this system, when there is a substantial conflict, the prime minister is outed rather than the monarchy itself, which is actually responsible for the friction. Consequently, the existence of a figurative, ceremonial governing position can divert the public’s displeasure.  

Similarly, the stage of incubation for the public’s anger influences their likelihood of overthrowing the monarchy. The current active monarchies have been able to quell rebellious tendencies by forming bureaucratic committees meant to show the public the government’s intentions to resolve the issue at hand. Jordan and Morocco made use of these tactics, forming reform action committees which somewhat pacified the protesters. Ultimately, these committees had minimal impact, serving as a distraction and stalling the momentum of the rebel forces. Once the worst of the cries for revolt had passed, the committees had fulfilled their role; any immediate threat to the monarchy had weakened. Though minute reforms may have been adopted, this was only with the long-term goal of avoid major reforms.  

Equally important is the military’s level of professionalism. The level of professionalism typically refers to how much of the military is made up of career soldiers rather than elites/patrons. The military system is frequently corrupted as an avenue for generating patronage through handing out symbolic positions to members of powerful families. More professional militaries are less likely to revolt because they are dedicated to the military as an institution. However, when they do revolt, they are typically more successful due to their relatively advanced skills and organization. Moreover, the military is more likely to stage a coup if they see the rest of the military as likely to follow the cause. If the military attacks together, it will be more effective. Therefore, there is greater risk in attacking alone, and perception of unity among the military is another crucial factor.  

Resource abundance is key as the wealth it provides can be used to pay off the population. Many of the GCC countries take advantage of this method in combination with strict coercion, which is made possible by income from rents. A repressive environment alongside a functioning economy gives the populus reason enough to accept the status quo. Moreover, these countries host swaths of migrant workers, who may have genuine concern and wishes for reform. However, their status as a non-national means they have little political power to make their voices heard. Accordingly, those with the most desire for reform typically do not have the agency to express their ideas.  

Altogether, the path for resource rich monarchies is more straightforward since their wealth allows them to pay the population directly and for the coercive apparatus to silence the people. For the others, they must find a way to delay the demands for reforms and a disposable scapegoat. In both instances, the monarchy wiggles out of responsibility and redirects the public’s attention. Without sufficient funds nor the deftness of political diversion, monarchies are left vulnerable. 


Works Cited 

Linda Katib and Ellen Lust. Taking to the Streets The Transformation of Arab Activism. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. 

Leave a Comment