Panel 1b Challenges to the GCC Social Contract in the Wake of the Arab Revolutions

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Chair: Dr Thomas Hegghammer, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Terrorism Research, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

Discussant: Professor Tim Niblock, Professor of Middle East Politics, University of Exeter

Paper 1: Intended and Unintended Consequences of Rent Distribution in the GCC
Dr Steffen Hertog, Lecturer in Comparative Politics, LSE

This paper seeks to provide an analysis of the main channels of rent distribution in the GCC political economies, with the aim of analysing the resulting incentives for entrepreneurial and labour market behaviour among different strata of the GCC citizenry. It will look at (a) various channels through which rents have been allocated to the private sector, and (b) the public employment policies through which a large share of the GCC citizenry has been included in the regimes’ distributional bargains. The paper will analyse the conflicting economic policy interests that these structures have created over time. It will then discuss potential ways in which state resources could be distributed that would be less distortionary of labour market incentives, could increase the integration of GCC nationals in the production processes of GCC economies, and could lead to a “class compromise” between citizens and business that could usher in more rational fiscal policies and a more coherent process of economic policy-making. >> download the paper

Paper 2: The Uprising in Bahrain and the post-2011 Sectarian Reality in the Gulf
Dr Toby Matthiesen, Abdullah al-Mubarak Research Fellow in Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

Relations between monarchical regimes in the Gulf and their Shia citizens have soured to levels as bad as after the Iranian revolution in 1979. While the popular uprising in Bahrain was not sectarian in its demand or its outlook, the Bahraini regime and its regional allies were rather successful in casting it as such. Since the crackdown on protesters in mid-March a publicity campaign has spread throughout the GCC countries warning citizens of the “sectarian” Shia protesters and the dangers they pose to the “nation”. As a result sectarian relations within the Arab Gulf countries, as well as with Iran and increasingly the Shia-led government of Iraq, have reached a new low point. Steps that have led to ‘marginal recognition’ of Saudi Shia after a deal with King Fahd in 1993 have been reversed and sectarianism is the new old reality of domestic politics and international relations in the Gulf.

Paper 3: Genuine Reform or more of the same? Revisiting the Arab Spring in the Gulf
Dennis Kumetat, PhD candidate, Department of Geography and Environment, LSE

This paper examines the trajectories of change underway in the GCC states. It investigates whether the limited political openings of 2011 represent genuine reform or more limited strategies of political decompression. Drawing on comparative examples from Eastern Europe and from the previous bout of political reform in the Gulf between 1999 and 2003, it argues that political transition is an intergenerational process of ongoing change in which the direction of travel is not always one-way. Beyond the comparative dimension, the paper addresses a set of challenges and potential obstacles to reform faced throughout the GCC states. These include networks of ‘crony capitalists’ and patronage, competing pathways of development in states weakened by the legacies of authoritarian rule, and the lack of autonomous civil society organisations and independent political parties. The paper concludes by analysing the durability of the processes of change as part of broader strategies to build post-oil economies in the Gulf. >> download the paper

Paper 4: Authoritarianism and Strategies of Legitimation: Comparative Perspectives on Bahrain and Oman
Dr Marc Valeri, Lecturer in Political Economy of the Middle East, University of Exeter

Bahrain and Oman have been facing tremendous pressure to reconsider the model of legitimacy they have relied on since the 1970s – a welfare state relying on the redistribution of oil rent, intertwined with ‘neo-traditional’ tools of legitimacy. They have been forced to do so in the context of the dwindling of the “social contract” which presided over the stability of these regimes, leading to diversify their strategies of legitimization at the same time as the state revenues. The paper looks at how these authoritarian systems have addressed internal challenges in order to survive. It analyses how reforms have been conducted in order to re-assert the ruling elite’s power, without affecting the hardcore of the decision-making centres. The paper is based on results of fieldworks conducted in both countries for several years, and especially since Spring 2011, and will pay special consideration to the 2011 protests and to their long-term impact on these regimes’ legitimacy basis.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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