They declare their support for governments that are more democratic in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and they also seek to preserve the traditional alliances with governments that are not very keen to have a democratic change. No wonder that the theory of the extraordinary royalty - the Arab royal regimes are in one way or another responsive to the political challenges more than their Republican counterparts - is becoming very popular. But is this true?
The idea that the Arab monarchies in the Gulf, Jordan and Morocco are more likely to survive had gained popularity since the beginning of the Arab spring, based on the observation that the Republican leaders are the only ones who were ousted so far. This is to some extent true, yet this is just a short-term view that ignores the fact that most of the Republics - including the one in Egypt, Iraq and Libya, which saw their hereditary rulers being overthrown through coups in 1950 and 1960 - were Royal ones in one day too. It seems likely that the monarchies of the day have remained in their ranks because they are flexible, but are not flexible because they are monarchies.
Hence, in order to understand this flexibility, analysts need to consider other factors: the loyalty of the armed forces, the effectiveness of the opposition, and the support being received from the more powerful forces. In fact, these factors may help to explain why some republican governments, such as Algeria, have been able to contain the pressure of the protests so far.
The theory of the extraordinary royalty may cover large differences between the ruling regimes in the eight Arab countries that have such regimes and may exaggerate the differences with the Republican regimes.
There are two ideas that are to be introduced for the benefit of the steadfastness of the royal regime. First, it has more legitimacy than the legitimacy of the newly formed republics, in terms of its well-known (royal) consultation methods and its way in consensus-building, especially in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, which claim to have religious legitimacy. Second, the royal regimes are well equipped to adapt and to have reform, and have certain European models to follow, for their rulers have given up power gradually while maintaining their dignity and status as national icons.
However, there is only one problem with the first idea represented in the fact that the concepts of the royal legitimacy are not easily evaluated in the political contexts that lack reliable opinion polls or free press, and which are usually against the laws of “insulting the ruler”. Any claim that the Arab awakening has turned a blind eye to the monarchies is not accurate. This means, it would be also a mistake to assume that all those who live in non-democratic governments necessarily see themselves as oppressed.
Certainly, there is an opposition-oriented activity in all the Arab kingdoms, but with varying degrees. The opposition MPs won 70 percent of the seats in the Kuwaiti parliamentary elections in 2012, and 45 percent of the votes in the 2010 elections in Bahrain. The major Bahraini opposition is boycotting today the Parliament because of its fragility, and the Islamic movements in Jordan and Morocco are doing the same, where the Islamists are the most to be peace-making, however, they have received more than a quarter of the seats in 2011. Since the beginning of 2011, six out of eight monarchies have faced protests. The most pronounced protest was in Bahrain but they also contributed to the constitutional amendments in Jordan, Morocco and Oman, as well as the solution of the Council of Ministers in Kuwait. Furthermore, writers, activists, and bloggers were tried and jailed on charges of “insulting” or “discrediting” the governments and/or the rulers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and most recently Oman.
Yet, most of the protests were not directed against the royal regimes. The pragmatist activists are seeking for a political reform process in light of the present rulers, by calling for a real constitutional monarchy in a way that makes the ruling authorities confined to a stronger parliament and an independent judiciary or an elected government.
The legacy of the traditions does not guarantee that the Kings are immune forever. One of the lessons learned from the Arab awakening is that the harsh response of the state in dealing with the protests could lead to an escalation in the demands of the protesters.
This brings us to the second idea that is represented in the fact that the monarchies should have more options for power-sharing. The idea that says that the monarchies have a range of options to develop their political regimes through an evolutionary style, and not a revolutionary one, is pretty much important. But this does not mean that their survival is inevitable. This means that their continuity depends on the actions, adaptation, and reform on an equal basis so that to accommodate the changing aspirations of the young people who are aware of the global citizenship rights and are increasingly growing, and to build sustainable economic models as well. Therefore, the said theory should act as a motive for reform, and should not be an excuse for carelessness.