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King of the Middle East: Using Game Theory to understand the resilience of monarchy in Jordan

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On one side we have the so-called ‘successes’ of the Arab Spring: Egypt and Tunisia (which have experienced regime change or civil war), compared to those that have been situated in the academic literature as the ‘unfinished’ revolutions: Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, and finally the eight Arab monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE , Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, and Bahrain. In comparison to the former two, these states stand firm. My thesis aims to understand why this is. Are monarchies simply more durable systems of governance in this part of the world? Or is there more to the story?

The monarchies under question differ significantly in size and social makeup. Social cleavages and fragmentations within each society vary considerably as well – tribalism has long been an important influence within all the Gulf states, East Bank Jordanians, and among some segments of the Moroccan population. Adding to this debate are markedly different degrees of constitutional constraint and parliamentary traditions. Liberalizing monarchs tend to maintain their power through fragmenting opposition groups, systems of patronage, and divide-and-rule tactics. In Jordan, for example, there was no democratization after the initial period of liberalizing reform in the 1990s – rather, elections, parties, and parliament became less significant. In Morocco, the initial reforms instituted by Mohammed VI left the power of the palace and its elites intact. As such, monarchs retain the ability to delay, reverse, or undercut reforms.

My PhD aims to move beyond simple binaries: ‘monarchy does or does not matter’ to explore specific mechanisms by which it might matter. I want to weigh these mechanisms with competing explanations, and show how monarchy operates in a particular case I know well: Jordan. At the outset, it is obvious that different regime types will create different incentives, institutions, and possibilities for political contention. However, how this applies in the Jordanian case – both theoretically and empirically – is something I aim to establish.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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