Emergence of constitutional monarchies - the real Middle Eastern story
Written by Robert D Kaplan   
Thursday, 14 July 2011

Good autocrats there are. For example, in the Middle East, monarchies found away over the decades and centuries to engender a political legitimacy of its own, allowing leaders like King Mohammed VI and Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman to grant their subjects a wide berth of individual liberties without fear of being overthrown.


Not only is relative freedom allowed, but extremist politics and ideologies are unnecessary in these countries.

It is only in modernising dictatorships like Syria and Libya – which in historical and geographical terms are artificial constructions and whose rulers are inherently illegitimate – where brute force and radicalism are required to hold the state together



.....real story in the Middle East..


 The real story in the Middle East these past few months, beyond the toppling of these decrepit regimes, is the possible emergence of authentic constitutional monarchies in places like Morocco and Oman. (This was written before the referendum approving Morocco as the world's latest constitutional monarchy)  

Both of these countries, which lie at the two geographical extremities of the Arab world, have not been immune to demonstrations. But the protesters in both cases have explicitly called for reform and democracy within the royal system and have supported the leaders themselves. 

King Mohammed and Sultan Qaboos have moved vigourously to get out in front of popular demands by reforming the system is instead of merely firing their cabinets. 

Indeed, over the years, they have championed women's rights, the environment, the large-scale building of schools and other progressive causes.

Qaboos, in particular, is sort of a Renaissance man who plays the loot and loves Western classical music and who – at least until the celebrations in 2010 marking 40 years of his rule – eschewed a personality cult.


..freedom from stability...




The characteristics, then, of the benign dictator are evident, at times hewing to propositions set forth by the likes of Berlin: freedom may come as much from stability as from democracy; leaders must adhere to the will of the people, they need not in all cases be chosen by them.


Yet in the Middle East these dictators remain the exception to the rule, and that is why quasi monarchies of the iron-fisted Assad or the crazed and tyrannical Qaddafi and now under assault.


[Robert D Kaplan Is a Foreign Correspondent for The Atlantic, A Senior Fellow at the Centre for a New American Security in Washington and a member of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board. His most recent book is Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and The Future of American Power, Random House, 2010. This is an extract from an article, The Good Autocrat, which appeared in The National Interest, number 114 July/August 2011]