Political change in the Arab oil monarchies: From liberalization to enfranchisement

Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Steven Wright

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The oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf region have typically been portrayed as patriarchal autocracies characterized by traditional tribal rule that have taken on the characteristics of a modern state. The historical debate on these rentier states has centred on how their substantial oil income since the 1970s has allowed them to pacify their citizenry from making demands for enfranchisement. Power was thus firmly able to rest with the elites. Since the end of the Cold War, winds of change flamed the desire for reform and the late 1990s saw significant political changes. The empirical data indicates that this pace has increased, albeit at differential speeds, within the context of the post-9/11 war on terror. Interestingly, this has been the case despite turmoil in Iraq and a shift to the right in Iranian politics. The fundamental drivers of reform in the Arab oil monarchies continue to be the ruling elites themselves, however. The character of the reforms does appear to be mainly liberalizing rather than democratizing, but developments in some oil monarchies suggest that this process can be viewed as an early or intermediate stage of a wider enfranchisement of civil society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-932
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2007


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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