By Arab News
By Hassan Bin Youssef Yassin
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that monarchy was the most sensible and effective form of government.
In any history or course on political theory in the West, it is taken for granted that a monarchy is bound to evolve eventually into a republic and then into a more appropriate fully democratic republic. While this may have indeed occurred in most European countries, it has little bearing on which system is most successful and appropriate in various non-Western contexts. What we have seen over the past months in the Arab world is that monarchies have proved far more stable and successful at meeting the needs of their people than imperfect republics that were set up to replace overthrown monarchies and have now in turn been overthrown.
Arab states took their modern forms only in the 20th century, with some reaching independence only after World War II. Initially there were many monarchies and very few republics. As nationalism swept the region, Arab republics were created, and they are the countries that mostly lie in chaos today. From Iraq and Syria to Egypt and Libya, the results achieved by those republics lie far below the expectations of their people. Tellingly, they also lie far below the results registered by the region’s rather stable and successful monarchies.
The point here is not to elevate Arab monarchies as superior political systems, but to illustrate that the dream of a republic has more often than not ended in a painful awakening, while Arab monarchies in comparison have provided greater stability and prosperity for their people. In North Africa, Morocco has recently shown the most stability and purposeful direction, although it does not enjoy the same resources that countries such as Algeria or Libya do.
ONE could argue that Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all took the worst aspects of one-person rule, leaving their countries and people traumatized and in deep economic distress. In the days of the monarchy though, Egypt experienced significant economic prosperity, similar to that of Europe at the time. The University of Cairo graduated close to one million Arab students under scholarships funded by the monarchy, while Egypt also paved the road between Makkah and Jeddah.
Cited as politically the most “democratic” country in the region, Lebanon’s history has been marked by perpetual crises and unimaginable destruction. Were it not for the tenacity of Lebanese to survive, and for rich Lebanese outside keeping the country afloat, Lebanon could well be nearing a failed-state situation. Lebanon’s problems are compounded by meddling by outside forces that only deepens any crisis.
An interesting comparison can be made between Iraq and Jordan, both of which emerged as linked monarchies from World War I. The monarchy in Jordan has continued until this day with some stability and prosperity, while Iraq has undergone several coups, economic collapses and costly wars over that time. Not all can be ascribed to the single factor of form of government of course but it is hard to escape the conclusion that monarchies have served Arab countries better when looking at the Arab world as a whole.
Attempted cooperation between an Egyptian and a Syrian republic ended in complete failure, while Egypt’s role in Yemen also ended in disaster, only to be replaced by a solution brokered by Saudi Arabia. Only Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia have ever played a positive and redeeming role in other Arab crises. Never has an Arab republic successfully come to the aid of another.
FOR a very telling example to illustrate the failure of Arab republics and the comparative success of Arab sheikhdoms and monarchies in providing for their people, one need only look at the difference between the United Arab Emirates and Libya. Both countries have similar population numbers, even if Libya is far larger in (largely empty and unused) territory. Although Libya has vast riches in the form of oil reserves, the per capita income of the United Arab Emirates is almost three times higher than that of Libya. The main factor one can narrow this down to is a style of leadership, a wise and consensual federation of emirs in the Emirates, and a mad buffoon ruling a self-styled Jamahiriyya in Libya.
The best example of all is, of course, Saudi Arabia. A monarchy since its modern creation in 1932, it survived for some time without the great resources we now enjoy and has weathered every storm since. In Libya and Algeria, the presence of oil riches never provided the stability and welfare that citizens of Saudi Arabia enjoy. Saudi Arabia has come under criticism from all sides, but our country is doing better than any Arab republic, and we are a firm anchor in the region, helping countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen or Lebanon when under threat.
Whatever criticisms might be brought against us, we as a country have maintained consistency, an effective form of government that has been more successful than Arab republics in addressing the needs of our people, and a steady and progressive vision of the future. We have been able to ease changes along more successfully, build consensus, and think of the good of our people rather than the ego or bank account of one leader as in many Arab republics. All the monarchies and sheikhdoms of the Gulf area have exhibited similar successes. This is a fact.
I may be accused of being too supportive of a monarchical system over others. If so, I take such criticism with tremendous pride, because we know who we are and we possess a proven system to provide stability and prosperity to our people. Saudi Arabia does not intend to sell or impose its system on others. But we take great pride in what we have achieved for our own people and the support we have provided fellow Arabs. It will, of course, continue to be Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who support Egypt and other countries emerging from current chaos.
Saudi Arabia has taken notice of the great changes taking place in the Arab world. We are serious about meeting our own challenges and the wishes our people have for their future. We shall do it confidently and in our own way, not by eliminating a regime or killing people, but by showing wisdom, respect and unity in defining our shared future. Saudi Arabia is a country that applies itself seriously to enhancing the lives of its people, of fellow Arabs, of friends and neighbors.
Our monarchy has served us very well in that regard. King Abdullah must be greatly credited for this.
Hassan Bin Youssef Yassin is a political analyst based in Jeddah. He can be contacted at [email protected]