To what extent does the concept of the ‘rentier state’ account for
the continued survival of absolute monarchies in the Gulf?
Word count: 2589
Student number: 4827317
In the mid-eighteenth century, the emergence of absolute monarchies in the Gulf States
takes root from their traditional royal families that were arbitrarily picked by British imperial
interest – Saudi Arabia (the Al Saud family), Oman (the Al Said family), Kuwait (the Al Sabah
family), Bahrain (the Al Khalifa family), Qatar (the Al Thani family), and UAE (a federation of
seven sheikdoms). After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the traditional royal families in the
Gulf States fell under British control, which ...view middle of the document...
First of all, the persistence of absolute monarchies in the rentier states in the Gulf is
explained in the light of rentierism advocated by many political scientists. A rentier state is defined
as a state whose primary function is to distribute revenue derived from the rent of indigenous
resources to external clients (Ross 2001). Since the extraction of oil and its export policy are solely
controlled by the national government, all the revenue from oil rent flow into the authoritarian
regimes’ coffer. With absolute financial autonomy, the ruling monarchs are able to dictate the
distribution of oil revenue to the populations. The correlation between resilience of absolute
monarchies in the Gulf states and rentierism is that enormous oil wealth enabled the government to
make citizens dependent on and thus loyal to the ruling families, by spending their revenue on civil
welfare, such as security, free healthcare, education, and the creation of jobs (Gause 1994).
Moreover, oil affluence allowed the monarchs to grant patronage to elites and opposing dissent
groups in order to co-opt them, decreasing latent pressure for democratization (Ross 2001).
Furthermore, Ross argues that oil revenue is also used by the ruling class for military
consolidation to eradicate the democracy advocates of democracy through coercion challenging the
incumbent regimes. Chardhry noted that Mideast governments used their oil revenue to develop
programmes that were “explicitly designed to depoliticize the population. . . . In all cases, the
governments deliberately destroyed independent civil institutions while generating others designed
to facilitate the political aims of the state” (Chaudhry 1994, p19). This demonstrates the desire of
the ruling elites who seek to ensure that the political system best serves their interests.
Another component of rentierism is little taxation as a result of the wealth of the royal
families from oil revenue. Because the citizens pay little to no tax in the rentier states, Ross argues
that, “the public will be less likely to demand accountability from – and representation in – the
government” (Ross 2001, pp332). Therefore, citizens are far less demanding in terms of political
participation (Beblawi, 1990). Furthermore, the citizens have less incentive to be watchful of how
government spends its money. For example, Crystal (1990) found that discovery of oil and the
resultant abolition of tax resulted in less accountability to the monarchies in Kuwait and Qatar.
Regarding the notion of “no representation without taxation” (Okruhlik 1999; Crystal 2005),
democratic theory argues that in Europe, the demand for representation in government arose in
response to the sovereign’s attempts to raise taxes (Tilly 1975). Therefore, the likelihood of regimes
being challenged is significantly reduced as representation in government erodes. Summarily, the
resilience of absolute monarchies is strengthened by the rentier...