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DavidV

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I write this at a time of, well, renewed turmoil. The assassination of the Tunisian leftist opposition politician Chokri Belaid, has inflamed Tunisia on top of similar events in Egypt, where the current post-change administrations are now facing massive unrest and divergent opposition demands. Of course, the reason why this belongs here is because Tunisia and Egypt were the first two nations of the so-called Arab Spring, and they happened to be the first two Arab countries where monarchies had been abolished. It is thus of little surprise that both of these countries, having experienced one of history's most abhorrent errors, now find themselves engulfed in more of the same - a continuity of ugliness.

The late Egyptian diplomat Tahseen Bashir once said that he believed that Egypt was the only real nation in the Arab world and that the rest are just "tribes with flags". This is of course inaccurate, yet by and large difficult to completely refute. Much of Arab society remains, at its core, tribal and feudal. The basis of the Gulf monarchies has always been tribal. The network of alliances between them and various groups in Syria and Lebanon resembles the old web of alliances among European royals and aristocrats, and a necessity for minority populations such as Christians and Druze for their continued survival in the region. All Arab royal families belong to large tribal federations, with member families residing in Syria, thus establishing a basis for the current rebellion. Most of the monarchies, save for Jordan, grew organically while Saudi Arabia had been established by means of conquest. By contrast, Jordan, Palestine (to the extent that a Palestine exists), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are arguably artificial constructs whose borders were the result of failing to realise the goal of the Arab Revolt in 1916 - the crux of the matter here since it is a root cause of conflict. Yemen, likewise, is an artificial construct in its current form.

Egypt, on the other hand, had served (along with, to a lesser degree, Lebanon due to its comparative openness and liberalism) as an ideological laboratory for the Middle East in the streams of radical pan-Arabism and Islamism. The secular republican pan-Arabism of Gamal Abdul Nasser had ghastly consequences for both Egypt and the region at large, spreading as it did to Tunisia, Iraq and Yemen, not to mention the Baathist takeover of Syria. And all of those regimes, invariably ugly and deservedly hated, have either fallen or are in the process of falling. Such revolts demonstrate precisely why the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was as idiotic as it was unnecessary, for Saddam Hussein could never have lasted indefinitely and didn't need an invasion to be eventually ousted.

Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, although complex societies on their own, arguably evolved more coherent national identities. Morocco was never part of the Ottoman Empire, its current Alaouite dynasty descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and a quite consistent existence for centuries before. The Husainid dynasty of Tunisia and the Muhammad Ali dynasty of Egypt established the basis of modern Tunisia and Egypt respectively, while the Senussi order in Libya had its base in Cyrenaica and formed the basis of what would become the Kingdom of Libya. Tunisia and Egypt had emerged as coherent and essentially self-ruling entities under Ottoman suzerainty.

Events demonstrate amply that Egypt, Tunisia and Libya badly need their monarchies. On the other hand, the tribal and feudal structures of the Arab world provide a basis on which conflicts can be resolved, and a stable order can be established which means that radical ideology can only be superimposed at best, as opposed to the way it had developed in a place like Egypt. Beyond the Arab nations, Iran has on one hand a coherent nation for centuries and beyond yet has a more complex ethnic composition, and with restive Kurdish and Arab populations tied to their brethren elsewhere. On one hand, Iran served as an incubator and repository of radical ideologies, yet is also distinctly better-placed once the IRI regime falls, to establish a genuine parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy.

Jordan and Morocco have chosen the cautious path to pluralism, which only monarchy can offer. For Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, monarchy may be the only way genuine pluralism can be guaranteed.
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