Middle East Monarchies: The Challenge of Modernity

Middle East Monarchies: The Challenge of Modernity

Middle East Monarchies: The Challenge of Modernity

Middle East Monarchies: The Challenge of Modernity

Synopsis

A discussion of the fundamentals and performance of monarchies in the Middle East. The authors focus on four themes: the roots and characteristics of Middle East monarchies; the causes of collapse or longevity; the performance of present-day monarchies; and the problems they face.

Excerpt

Eight active, quasi-absolutist monarchical regimes prevail in the Middle East. Several others that existed by the mid-twentieth century have since collapsed. Understanding of Middle East monarchies—the failure of some and prevalence of others—merits a special study, which is the focus of this volume.

The monarchical legacy of earlier Middle East empires (in this book, meaning the Arab and Ottoman Empires) inherited by their twentieth-century successors can be summarized by two main characteristics. First, monarchical principles were applied without official Islamic legitimacy. As is evident from Bernard Lewis's contribution to this volume (see Chapter 2), the title malik (king) was regarded as non-Islamic and therefore unlawful and corrupt. Until the twentieth century, Islamic rulers did not assume this title. A ruler's emphasis was rather on fulfilling the task of a khalifa (the prophet's substitute ruling over a community of believers, or umma), claiming his right to rule according to the shari 'a (holy law). However, throughout all of Islamic history, Muslim rulers practiced at least two fundamentals of monarchic rule: individual-absolutist and dynastic-hereditary. These fundamentals were often expressed in two respective ruling principles: administrative and military apparati were established to serve the individual ruler, and a social system based on kin, ethnic, religious, and other solidarities was arrayed in hierarchical divisions. They also adopted additional monarchical facets, such as royal entourages and households. These basic principles marked the ruler's paramount power and position, the ruler wielding these prerogatives in hereditary fashion within a family or a dynasty. Second, without an official religious sanction, adoption and exercise of these qualities did not develop into a desired norm or into an official doctrine of monarchical rule. Monarchical principles in the Arab and Ottoman Empires evolved more haphazardly, typical of a regime created by a forceful seizure of government, following Persian, Greek, and Byzantine examples as well as local practices and arbitrary rulers' interests.

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