In This Review

All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democratic Prospects in the Middle Eastern Monarchies
All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democratic Prospects in the Middle Eastern Monarchies
By Michael Herb
State University of New York Press, 1999, 352 pp
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Why have so many seemingly anachronistic monarchies survived in the Middle East? Herb's answer is that dynastic monarchies (which allow an extended family to rule) produce stability. Such regimes include those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and, to a lesser extent, Oman. Several monarchies in which the ruler barred family members from power are no longer around: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. Two others, Morocco and Jordan, lean toward dynasticism. This may sound too neat, but Herb does a fine job of scouring the record, producing sound summary history, and assessing other explanations for this phenomenon. He argues persuasively, for example, that the oft-cited "rentier state" justification for oil-rich states -- states that do not tax their citizens can do without representative democracy -- is faulty. The author does not argue that dynastic monarchy is either good or bad; it is just stable for now. Herb sees prudently liberalizing monarchies as the most promising future option, according the highest marks to Kuwait and the lowest to Bahrain.