The Arab Spring Survivors

In this RO series we analysed the countries that witnessed uprisings and the overthrow of long established rulers. Yet there were also a number of nations that did not witness uprisings or not to the level that threatened the rulers and the status quo. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Jordan and most of the Gulf States. These nations are con­sid­ered to have been unaf­fected by the Arab Spring upris­ings, with many believing they had weath­ered...
16th April 20156 min

In this RO series we analysed the countries that witnessed uprisings and the overthrow of long established rulers. Yet there were also a number of nations that did not witness uprisings or not to the level that threatened the rulers and the status quo. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Jordan and most of the Gulf States. These nations are con­sid­ered to have been unaf­fected by the Arab Spring upris­ings, with many believing they had weath­ered the storm of pop­u­lar dis­con­tent. There are however specific reasons for this such nations did not witness large uprisings and that is because the relationship between the rulers and the people in these countries are different when compared to the relationships between the rulers and the people in Libya, Syria and Egypt. In Libya, Syria and Egypt the rulers ruled with an iron fist, established what were police states and social cohesion was maintained through a large secret service. These factors are largely absent in the Gulf nations, Saudi and Jordan.

In Jordan the protests were restricted to calls for the removal of the Prime Minister. King Abdullah dismissed various governments on account of the street protests. Since Jordan’s independence in 1946, the palace has appointed more than 60 prime ministers, including three since the Arab unrest broke out in 2011. King Abdullah dissolved the government of Prime Minister Samir Rifai and then put Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general, in charge of forming a new Cabinet and instituting reforms. Protests still continued, which led to King Abdullah to sack Bakhit and his cabinet, naming Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh to head the new government and institute new reforms. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the largest fac­tion to chal­lenge the king, set­tled for reforms by the monar­chy each time it was embold­ened to organ­ise large protests. The Mus­lim Brotherhood’s prag­matic approach in Jor­dan has always kept the monar­chy in power and even today the MB con­tin­ues to effec­tively prop up King Abdul­lah by nego­ti­at­ing on reforms rather than call­ing for an end to the monarchy. The monar­chy has coun­tered any oppo­si­tion by care­fully man­ag­ing a bal­ance of power strat­egy via play­ing dif­fer­ent fac­tions against each other. Through this King Abdullah successfully contained the protests by constantly dissolving the government, promising reforms that never see the light of day and this placated the people.

Saudi Arabia was able to present the protests in its territories as a Shi’ah uprising and this caused the bulk of the population to support the clampdown in cities such as Qatif, al-Awamiyah, and Hofuf.[1] In order to contain the uprising the monarchy announced a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $10.7 billion. These included funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well as the writing off of some loans. As part of the Saudi scheme, state employees saw a pay increase of 15%, and cash was made available for housing loans. No political reforms were announced as part of the package. The monar­chy controlled the information dissemination in Saudi as it directly oper­ates the radio and tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies in the King­dom and news­pa­pers are sub­si­dized and reg­u­lated by the gov­ern­ment. Gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship con­tin­ues to plague the press, and legal access to the Inter­net must be via local servers, which the gov­ern­ment con­trols. The key min­istries are reserved for the royal fam­ily, as are the thir­teen regional gov­er­nor­ships. The monar­chy con­trols every aspect of soci­ety mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to remove the regime as it will require the elim­i­na­tion of the whole Al Saud clan. The monarchy was also able to placate the people through the role of the reli­gious estab­lish­ment. The monar­chy has estab­lished numer­ous and com­plex patron­age net­works, which include the top reli­gious schol­ars. The descen­dants of Muham­mad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th cen­tury founder of the Wah­habi school of thought sup­port the Al Saud fam­ily and thus legit­imizes their rule.[2] The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia also issued a fatwa opposing petitions and demonstrations, the fatwa included a “severe threat against internal dissent.”[3]

The Gulf States did not see many protests apart from Bahrain and Oman. Such city states placated the uprisings through making some reforms, changing cabinets and through economic hand-outs. Although many of them have monarchies they do not rule with an iron fist. Bahrain made much of the international news at the time, due to its clampdown of its Shi’ah majority population, but the intervention of 5000 Saudi troops put an end to the uprising in the country. Oman was the only other Gulf nation to see significant protests. The Sultan continued with his reform campaign by dissolving some ministries, setting up some new ones, granting student and unemployed benefits, dismissing scores of ministers, and reshuffling his cabinet three times. In addition, nearly 50,000 jobs were created in the public sector, including 10,000 new jobs in the Royal Oman Police. The government’s efforts largely placated protesters, and Oman never saw any more significant demonstrations since May 2011, when increasingly violent protests in Salalah were subdued.

Though Pakistan is not in the Middle East, due to its internal crisis and incompetent leaders many have questioned why the Arab spring never reached the Asian subcontinent nation, where an uprising has been notably absent. Pakistan has not been a brutal dictatorship as has been the case with Libya, Syria and Egypt. Since Musharraf’s era Pakistan has moved in such a direction, as can be seen with the disappearance of many people apparently linked to terrorism, this is however a relatively recent phenomena. The rule in Libya, Egypt and Syria was in the hands of brutal dictators and the only way to change this was through an uprising. In Pakistan unlike Libya, Egypt and Syria the political system is not controlled by a single clan, there exist different centres of power, with two families who have historically dominated the political system. Feudal landowners, industrialists, rich families and the army are all centres of power who maintain Pakistan’s political architecture. Alongside this opportunists, factions and many groups have entered the political process for their personal interests. The political process in Pakistan has the involvement of a much wider segment of the population compared to Libya, Egypt and Syria and this has acted as its lifeline. For the moment in Pakistan the call for change is either making the political system more democratic or getting some Islamic laws passed. This is why there has not been an uprising in the country even though the economy continues to teeter on the brink and electricity black outs have become the norm.

These countries were able to survive the Arab spring due to the specific circumstances present in their countries. But their people have been impacted by the wider Arab spring and it is clear now that real change entails removing the rulers and changing the underlying systems. But after four years in Saudi, Jordan and the Gulf states, they look at Syria, Yemen and Libya, countries who are mared in chaos and civil war and consider themselves to have taken the better course of action. Whilst these monarchies and regimes have survived for the moment there are a number of unprecedented trends emerging in the region will affect the status quo and this will be the subject of the last part of this RO series, looking at the Arab spring – 4 years on.

 

[1] http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/12/world/la-fg-saudi-unrest-20110312

[2] Al-Rasheed, Madawi (2010). A His­tory of Saudi Ara­bia. pp. 16

[3] http://islamopediaonline.org/fatwa/fatwa-council-senior-scholars-kingdom-saudi-arabia-warning-against-mass-demonstrations

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