“Emboldened by the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, other pro-American regimes in the region are quickly coming to realise that their countries are not immune to the revolutionary fervour that has swept through the Middle East. In Bahrain, “protests to topple the monarchy continue......” reported by New American Magazine on February 08, 2011, while appraising the situation in Middle East. A year later, revolutionary flames that consumed Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan regimes, charred Syria and Yemen, have lost intensity after barely scorching Arab monarchies. It is confounding that despite of serious problems as aging leadership, vague rules of succession, corruption, socio-economic inequities, and burgeoning population of educated but unemployed youth, regimes of GCC member-states have withstood the tumult of Arab Spring.

The soil of Arab kingdoms is infertile for pluralistic ideals and effective popular movements. Apart from Bahrain, that initially experienced a political crisis, all other members of GCC have demonstrated impressive resilience against a revolutionary shock. Three factors are responsible for it. These are oil wealth, weak civil society and low level of national integration.

The kingdoms derive most of their revenues from oil. This wealth has helped royalty to perpetuate its rule in two important ways. Firstly, unlike leaders of many Arab republics, Arab kings have spent billions on raising the economic condition of their people. Saudi Arabia, biggest and most influential of GCC country, spends billions every year on public welfare programmes. The kingdom's GDP per capita is around $18,500. Nearly all Saudis receive housing assistance, free healthcare and education. The government is working on a plan to reduce poverty level (defined as those living on $1015 per month) from 13.3 percent to 2.2 percent in next 10 years. Last March, to placate Saudi youth, King Abdullah announced a package of $37 billion aimed at creating 60,000 new jobs, and building 500,000 houses. Such an extensive largesse has improved the regime's legitimacy, taking away any motive for citizens to protest against the government.     

Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates are immune to unrest because they have used petro-dollars for impressive economic gains. Rulers of these kingdoms have turned their city states into regional hubs of international business and trade, hosting international events and constructing finest architectural landmarks. Such achievements have won them international acclamation and domestic plaudit.

Where oil has been a boon for ordinary citizens, there it has robbed them of political liberty and freedom. It has been used to finance vast patronage networks, entangling potential opponents, coercing opposition, sapping strength from civil society that is indispensable for planning, coordination and execution of a political movement. In words of Michael L. Ross of University of California: “The Arab Spring uprisings are a reminder of the virtually universal appeal of democracy. But they should also serve as a reminder that oil wealth is one of the most stubborn obstacles to democratic reform.”

In Saudi Arabia, the first political party was founded in 2011. Immediately afterwards, its leaders were arrested and thrown into jails. The country has only one civic group, Shawa-al-Islamaya, organised on the lines of Egyptian Muslim brotherhood, and even that is a part of government’s patronage network. In Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, so-called Parliaments are dominated by princes and members of royal families, operating like cliques, giving a pluralistic cloak to dynastic and feudal power structures.   

Third important factor, making it harder for a popular movement to succeed in Gulf kingdoms, is low level of national integration. For a successful reform movement, nation has to unite, with a single aim, putting aside their petty interests for greater communal good. This critical element of nationhood is missing in GCC states. In words of Kristin Smith, Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at the American University School of International Service: “Gulf publics are factionalised - by ideology, by tribe, by sect, and even by mundane issues such as business interests. Political projects of reform, then, often fall prey to societal divisions.”     

For the time being, Arab Kings have silenced the demands for political reforms, but ultimately unemployment, corruption, deteriorating public services, hostility against free expression, demographic shift and economic pressures, will make it harder for GCC leadership to throw money at its problems, making it imperative to initiate meaningful political reforms. In words of a Saudi Shawa Sheikh, Salman al-Adwa: “Throwing few crumbs at the people is not enough. Arab leaders must commit to radical reform or hear calls for the fall of regime. Without some preventive infrastructure they may find themselves underwater much like the streets of Jeddah after a flash flood.”

The writer is a freelance writer and has worked as a broadcast journalist.

Email: adnanfalak@gmail.com