Friday, September 12, 2008

Rentier States

Riad al-Khouri wonders if democratic experiments in the Gulf mean that the concept of the rentier state should be revisited:
"One factor that impedes democracy in the Middle East is the lack of government dependence on citizen support, the state instead relying on oil revenues directly, as in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, or indirectly in the case of such economies as Jordan. The political implication of this concept is that because such states do not ultimately rely for survival on domestic taxation, they are under no obligation to allow for political freedom and so can limit independent political activity that may affect social stability. However, the vast amounts of money in Kuwait and the other Arab Gulf exporters help underpin stability and so make resorting to repression less necessary. In such situations, democratic practices can and do develop.

"So should the theory of the rentier state be revisited? The idea of rentierism clearly has applications even to non-oil economies; for example, Jordan has been viewed as a quasi-rentier state because of its indirect dependence on oil revenues as has Egypt because of its dependence on tourism. However, as the last five years have shown, as far as the GCC states are concerned, the old equation of oil wealth with anti-democratic rentierism may need to be refined and updated."

I've never been a big fan of political science's tendency to privilege the model over the case. In this case, it seems likely that the historic lack of political liberalization isn't tied to the fact that Gulf governments don't extract tax revenue from their citizens, but that said citizens haven't historically made agitation for political reform a priority. I also think that at least Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates should be seen as something like politically authoritarian economic communes on which the form of the nation-state is a new, still uncertain fit. A distribution of resources people see as equitable still matters, which leads to some interest in reform. In addition, people do have other interests which, from time to time, they decide would be best met through democratization as opposed to, say, patronage ties.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home