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. 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. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia also issued a fatwa opposing petitions and demonstrations, the fatwa included a “severe threat against internal dissent.”
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.
 Al-Rasheed, Madawi (2010). A History of Saudi Arabia. pp. 16