Leonie Holthaus | 2019

Long Live the Neo-traditional Kings? The Gulf Cooperation Council and Legitimation of Monarchical Rule in the Arabian Peninsula

in: Middle East Critique, 28:4, 381-403

This article revisits prevailing ideas about the legitimation of monarchical rule through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by emphasizing the neo-traditional rule of the GCC regimes. It assumes that legitimacy claims often cross the local, national and (sub-)regional levels and analyzes them from a critical historical perspective and against the background of a global capitalist order. I show that the history of the sub-regional organization is wedded to legitimacy claims, referring to a common Gulf identity and good economic performance for the benefit of the members’ citizens. However, I focus on what often is marginalized in scholarly analyses: The common normalization of highly segregated labor markets on which the neo-traditional regimes depend.

In effect, I criticize not only the international failures to oppose the GCC’s common repression of democratic revolt (2011). I also depict a bias in many scholarly analyses of autocratic legitimacy, as they neglect citizen-foreigner gaps. Finally, I argue that geopolitical and elite competition, as evident in the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, does not prepare the end of the GCC as we know it. Only substantive democratization could do so.

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