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The Arab Spring

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
March 29, 2011
National Review


The fake republics are goners; the monarchies have a fighting chance. That's my conclusion after a short visit to the Middle East and discussions with officials and analysts there.

The ingredients that brought Ben Ali down in Tunisia were closely replicated in Egypt and Libya: repression, vast corruption, and family rule. They are all present in Syria as well, suggesting that the Assad regime may stay in power for a while by shooting protesting citizens, but that its ultimate demise is certain.

The monarchies, especially Jordan and Morocco, have some genuine legitimacy, as do the Gulf states as well. They are less repressive and more legitimate than the now-overthrown false republics, with their stolen elections, regime-dominated courts, and rubber-stamp parliaments. Unlike the republics of fear, these monarchies do not have histories of bloody repression and jails filled with political prisoners. (Bahrain is an exception, for the Sunni dynasty ruling over a Shia population always had less legitimacy — and may now have fatally compromised whatever was left it by bringing in Saudi and other foreign troops to crush demonstrations.)

The question for the kings, emirs, and sheiks is whether they will do two things: end the corruption that surrounds all these royal courts, and begin a genuine move toward constitutional monarchy, where power is shared between the throne and the people. In Kuwait there is already a real, elected parliament with genuine power, but the prime minister is always a member of the ruling al-Sabah family. That must end.

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