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The UAE and the Challenge of Political Legitimacy Post-Arab Spring 2011-19

AL-SUWAIDI, KHALIFA,HUSSAIN,MOHAMMED (2020) The UAE and the Challenge of Political Legitimacy Post-Arab Spring 2011-19. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Accepted version of the thesis) - Accepted Version


This thesis studies the impact which the Arab protests, widely referred to as the Arab uprisings and the Arab Spring, have had on constructs of regime legitimacy in a modernising monarchy: the UAE. The waves of often violent unrest across so much of the Middle East and North Africa, which saw the overthrow of a series of republican regimes, was widely seen as a challenge to the dynastic regimes of the Arab Gulf, not least with the revival of political Islamist movements whose worldview was often the antithesis of tribally-based patrimonial rule. To date, however, the Gulf monarchies – with the brief exception of Bahrain – have escaped the upheavals that marked the violent transition of autocratic regimes elsewhere in the Middle East.
Two dominant paradigms have been used to explain why the Gulf monarchies and the UAE, in particular, have managed to weather the challenge of the Arab uprisings. First, the UAE, similar to many of its Khaleeji neighbours, is built upon resilient tribal, clan and family allegiances, the bedrock of patrimonialism, which have helped it avoid an otherwise certain crisis of legitimacy. Secondly, the ruling bargain, based on the predominance of rentier state theory (RST) in explaining monarchical legitimacy in the Gulf, fulfils the socioeconomic needs of the population in terms of employment in the state sector but who otherwise have limited political participation or involvement in the wider direction of the country.
These approaches are, however, limited in terms of their explanatory power. While RST clearly has purchase in explaining regime stability amid the pressures of nation building and the external challenges faced, such theories assume an almost static sense of identity and contract between the rulers and the ruled. In particular, the way national identity has emerged and evolved in the UAE amid the pressures of modernity in the era of social media and where young Emiratis have access to information beyond government control suggests acceptance of the ruling order is more than just being about satiating political demands with material goods or the ready acceptance of the patrimonial order.
By developing an alternative theoretical framework that draws upon constructs of legitimacy and role theory, this thesis offers a more nuanced approach to understanding the pillars of regime legitimacy and survival upon which the UAE now rests, the context in which they have developed and how they have come to define the political trajectory of post-Arab uprisings UAE.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:United Arab Emirates, Legitimacy, Arab Uprisings, Monarchy, Rentier state.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 Jul 2020 09:38

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