History and Society of the Arab Monarchies. An Overview

Presentation (Elaboration), 2014

7 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Nina Kelli (Author)


1. Introduction:

My presentation dealt with the monarchies in the Arab world. I presented each monarchy and its historical background, the respective social situation and tried to explain why the Arab monarchies haven proven very stable over the years. In this elaboration I will investigate the topic in more detail, with special attention to the fact why the Arab monarchies are still existing in times of uprisings. In order to answer this question, I will look at the monarchies' resources, their policies and government.

2. The Arab monarchies:

According to Brynen and Gelvin, eight countries in the Arab world are monarchies today: The State of Kuwait, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Sultanate of Oman, Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Morocco and finally the State of Qatar. Different from European monarchies, the political influence of the Arab rulers is much less restricted by constitutions, thus making the heads of state of the Arab monarchies practically absolute in terms of power.

2.1. Morocco (constitutional monarchy):

The Kingdom of Morocco counts 30.704.000 inhabitants. The capital is Rabat which is located along the coastal side. The languages spoken in Morocco are Arabic, French as well as Berber dialects. Most of the citizens are Muslims, besides the life expectancy is about 70 years. The gross domestic product per capita is relatively low with $ 3.900, 52ย/0 of the population are able to read and write.

The royal family of the Kingdom of Morocco had existed since the seventeenth century. The country was independent and ruled by a sultan until the early twentieth century. In 1912, Morocco was split by the French and the Spanish during the 'scramble of Africa' (Gelvin, chapter five, p. 121) and thus lost its full independence. This caused a rebellion among the people of the Spanish part eight years later, in 1920. The protesters demanded an independent state; furthermore, Morocco should become a republic which would mean the end of the Sultan's reign. The Spanish and the French managed to put down the protests, the sultan could then continue to rule the state. After the Second World War, the sultan encouraged the nationalists to fight for Morocco's independence, in 1956 Morocco became a fully independent state. The politicians' power was passed on to the sultan, now king of the country, who had absolute control over the country.

2.2. Jordan (constitutional monarchy):

The capital of Jordan is Amman in the northeastern part, the overall population is 5.795.000 and thus quite low. The official languages are English and Arabic, the majority of the people are Sunni Muslims or stick to the Christian faith. The citizens of Jordan average become 81 years old, the high literacy rate counts 91%. $ 4.300 make Jordan's gross domestic product per capita.

Winston Churchill referred to the creation of Jordan by claiming that it was established 'with the stroke of a pen one Sunday afternoon' (Gelvin, chapter five, p. 122). Jordan, which was actually called Trans-Jordan in the first place, was founded by the British in 1921. The ruler was Sharif Hussein of Mecca who supported the British during the First World War.

An emir ruled the country on the British' behalf, until Jordan gained its independence after the Second World War in 1946. The state of Trans-Jordan became Jordan, the emir's title was changed into that of a king. The Hashemite family ruled the country, that is why Jordan finally became the 'Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan'.

2.3. Saudi Arabia (monarchy):

Saudi Arabia's official language is Arabic, the capital is Riyadh which is located in the centre of the country. The overall population is 24.573.000, the religion is Muslim. The gross domestic product per capita is quite high ($ 11.400), the average life expectancy is 72 years, 79% of the population are literates.

Similar to Jordan and the Hashemite family, the name of Saudi Arabia actually derived from the royal family's name of Saud. The royal family had close connections to Wahhabism, the radical side of Islam: One of their members, Muhammad ibn Saud, came into contact with a preacher called Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. In 1818, the first Saudi state was suppressed; nearly eighty years later, in 1891, the second Saudi state collapsed. In 1932, tthe creation of a third state took place. All three states were ruled by the Saud family.

2.4. The Gulf states:

In the early 20th century, the Gulf region caught the interest of the British due to its oil- richness as well as the proximity to India. Apart from that, the British fought off slave trade and piracy at the coast. Several monarchies were formed which eventually became the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE):

2.4.1. Kuwait (constitutional emirate):

Kuwait has quite a small population, consisting of 2.589.000 people only (capital: Kuwait City), but a high gross domestic product of $ 17.500 per capita and a life expectancy of 78 years. The official languages are Arabic and English, 84% are able to read and write. Different from most of the other monarchies listed here, the religious distribution in Kuwait is quite versatile: There are Sunni / Shia Muslims, but Christians and Hindus as well.

Kuwait was founded as a city state in the 18th century by the royal family Sabah, together with members of othe royal families. The Sabah family finally became the ruling family in 1899, as the British suggested to one family member to make him an emir, in case the British predominance was accepted. The Sabah family have been the rulers of Kuwait since that time.

2.4.2. Oman (monarchy):

Similar to Kuwait, only very few people live in the sultanate of Oman: 2.436.000. The capital is Muscat.The spoken languages are Arabic, English, Urdu as well as Indian dialects. Most of the people living in Oman are Sunni, Shia or Ibadi Muslims. 76% are literates, the life expectancy is 73, the gross domestic product is $ 8.300 and for that reason lower than those of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

The actual name of the sultanate was Muscat and Oman which it kept until the 1970s. As in Kuwait, the British were involved in the political matters of the state, even though Muscat and Oman was no British colony. The state actually benefitted from the support of the British, as they protected the country against internal uprisings which could threaten the stability of Muscat and Oman.

2.4.3. Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates:

The population of Bahrain (constitutional monarchy) is particularly low, not even reaching 1 million, but 731.000 only (capital: Doha). Three languages - English, Arabic and Urdu - are spoken in the country, the religion is Sunni and Shia Muslim. The gross domestic product is quite high ($ 15.100 per capita), the same goes for the literacy rate with 89%. The average life expectancy is 74.

768.000 people live in Qatar (emirate), the official languages are English and Arabic. The majority of Qatar's inhabitants are Muslims, the gross domestic product per capita is $ 67.000 and considerable for that reason. 83% of the population are literates, the overall life expectancy is 72.

The capital of the United Arab Emirates (federation; the power is given to the UAE Federal Government as well as the member emirates) is the city of Abu Dhabi. Various languages are spoken in the country; these are Arabic, English, Urdu, Hindi and Persian. The religions practised in the Emirates are equally mixed: Apart from Sunni and Shia Muslims, Hindu and Christian communities exist as well. The gross domestic product is relatively high ($ 22.100), the average life expectancy is 74 and 78% of the population are literates.

The history of the two states is quite similar and closely linked. Bahrain was conquered by the Khalifa family in the 18th century, the Persian predominance of the country had then ended. After uprisings in the inland, Qatar was accepted as a state on its own, both states became British protectorates which they remained until the early 1970s. Qatar and Bahrain gained full independence, together with the United Arab Emirates, after the British left.

A treaty was drawn up between the seven states that later became the United Arab Emirates and the British: The countries agreed that the emirates should make piracy come to an end, whereas the British accepted the royal families as the respective heads of state. After the withdrawal of the British, the countries formed the federation of the emirates, with the emir of Abu Dhabi as the president due to his wealth and the emir of Dubai, the state with the highest population, as the prime minister.

3. The stability of the monarchies:

It is noteworthy that the Arab monarchies virtually faced no civil war or far-reaching political changes during the period of the Arab Spring. This leads to the question why the monarchies in the Arab world are also stable in times of uprisings and whether they will manage to fight off any external or internal threats in the future.

A very important factor by which the stability of a monarchy is determined is the respective regime. Constitutional monarchies have proven very stable; half of the monarchies in the Arab world are constitutional monarchies: Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait (constitutional emirate which can be equated to a constitutional monarchy) and finally Bahrain. The exceptions are Saudi Arabia and Oman as 'non-constitutional' monarchies, Qatar as an emirate and the UAE as a federation.

Furthermore, the protection of the British and the Americans led to an increase in stability, as the colonial powers actually supported the Arab monarchies and enabled them to fight off any potential riots or uprisings. The influence of Islam is another reason why the monarchies are stable: Because Islam includes many traditions regarding politics, the government remains relatively unchanged. Apart from that, the tradition of dynastic power is passed on to members of the royal families only. A noteworthy example for this hereditary power is a caliphate in which the power remains in the family.

The monarchies' population is very low (sometimes less than 1 million), for that reson the emir or king is able to control his country more easily, since he has a better 'overview' over his people, especially over the elites who might potentially try to become powerful. During the Arab Spring, the monarchies provided money for the inhabitants in order to prevent them from being unsatisfied with the political system and the economic situation. The Gulf Cooperation Council gave them additional support.

The significance of oil enables the monarchies to be economically stable as well. The Persian Golf States, Kuwait and the UAE in particular, are very rich in oil and export it to the West. In 2010, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi exported about 95%, and Bahrain which is considered relatively poor in oil, exported 60%. Qatar and Saudi Arabia exported 70% (Qatar) and 90% (Saudi Arabia). On the other hand, the guest workers from e.g. China enable the monarchies to improve and stabilise the overall living standards. However, the inequal distribution of oil has lead to conflicts, since the poor people are often unable to get access to it.

Even though they are traditional, the monarchies were remarkably modernized because of the colonial era and the independence after the colonial powers had withdrawn, the access to oil which is a significant economic factor, and the monarchies' flexible institutio

4. Conclusion:

There are many different reasons why the Arab monarchies were adept at fighting off any uprisings that were likely to arise. These include the close connections to the fomier colonial powers America and Britain, the significane of Islam as well as the traditions that are linked with it, the almost unrestricted power of the monarchs, the post-colonial independence, the access to oil as well as the economically essential oil trade with the West and finally the foreigners working as guest workers who improve the economic situation.

Although these various factors enable the monarchies to remain stable, each factor alone would be too weak to prevent the monarchies' stability from failing. All factors together are strong enough and form a pattem which support the monarchies of the Arab world as a whole.


Brynen, R., Moore, RM, Salloukh, B.F. & Zahar, M.J. (2012). “Beyond The Arab Spring: Authoritarianism & Democratization in the Arab World'. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

- Chapter 8: The Politics of Monarchical Liberalization, pp. 173- 193

Gelvin, J. L. (2012) " The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know". Oxford University Press

- Chapter 5: The Monarchies, pp. 119-140

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History and Society of the Arab Monarchies. An Overview
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
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history, society, arab, monarchies, overview
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Nina Kelli (Author), 2014, History and Society of the Arab Monarchies. An Overview, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/430742


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