Strategic Horizons: American Defense and Arab Monarchies

Strategic Horizons: American Defense and Arab Monarchies

As the Arab Spring enters its third year, several trends have become clear. The world now knows that massive and effective popular opposition to authoritarian regimes can coalesce with stunning speed and little advance warning. In an era of interconnectedness and information saturation, revolution often moves in waves as the collapse of one dictator inspires the opponents of other ones. Getting rid of dictators may be bloody and difficult, as in Libya and Syria, but even when it's relatively quick, as in Egypt and Tunisia, the transition to a stable post-authoritarian system is extraordinarily difficult and fraught with the potential for extremism and renewed violence.

The suffering and triumph of the past few years remain unfinished, not only for the transitions in Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, but for other Arab states as well, particularly the monarchies.

The Arab monarchs are still feeling the pressure that swept away their nonroyal counterparts in the region. For the small, rich emirates in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Arab Spring has been a troubling flurry rather than a ruinous storm. Like Hong Kong or Singapore, both states are able to sustain such a high standard of living that their citizens accept some limitations on political activity. History shows that demands for democracy often have economic roots, and so far, at least, these are missing in the rich emirates. As Shabina Khatri put it, "Qataris are for the most part known for living a comfortable lifestyle, and most wouldn't dream of making a public stink about what they consider to be in-house problems in their country."

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