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  • Michael Herb

Not long ago, two safe generalizations could be made about the Gulf monarchies: ruling families dominated their politics, and oil dominated their economies. In recent years that has begun to change. In Kuwait the parliament challenges the political predominance of the ruling family. Meanwhile, Dubai and, increasingly, the other emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have made real progress in diversifying their economies away from oil—at least until the recent economic crisis. Yet political liberalization and economic diversification have not gone hand in hand: Kuwait's economy remains dependent on oil, and the United Arab Emirates remains resolutely authoritarian. This is no accident. Kuwait's high level of political participation encourages its dependence on oil while the UAE's economic diversification requires a lack of political participation by citizens. The reasons for this are specific to the peculiar political economy of these labor markets: in these richest of rentier-states, there is little need for the class compromise between capitalists and workers on which capitalist democracy usually rests.

Corresponding author
Michael Herb is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Ga. 30303-2514, USA; email:
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Author's note: Funding for research in the Gulf was provided by the Fulbright program. I received helpful comments from many friends and colleagues, including Steffen Hertog, Ellen Lust-Okar, and Mary Ann Tétreault.

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2 Przeworski, Adam, Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 4243.

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4 Karl, Terry Lynn, The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-states (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997), 17.

5 Some earlier work argued that rents tended to replace economic divisions with divisions based on religion and culture. More recent work discusses various aspects of competition for rents in rentier societies. Delacroix, Jacques, “The Distributive State in the World System,” Studies in Comparative International Development 15 (Fall 1980): 321; Moore, Doing Business in the Middle East; Benjamin Smith and Joseph Kraus, “Democracy Despite Oil: Transition and Consolidation in Latin America and Africa,” Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., 1–4 September 2005.

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10 The National Assembly cannot remove confidence in the prime minister, but, following an interpellation, it can declare that it cannot work with the prime minister. The emir can then either dismiss the prime minister or call new elections.

11 Mohammed Khalfan, “The Practicality of Having the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates Become an Elective Body” (PhD diss., University of La Verne, 1997), 69–70.

12 al-Shahin, ʿAbd al-Rahim ʿAbd al-Latif, Nizam al-Hukm wa-l-Idarah fi al-Imarat al-ʿArabiyya al-Muttahida (The System of Government and Administration in the United Arab Emirates), 1st ed. (Ras al-Khaimah, UAE: Matbaʿat Jalfar, 1997), 281–82.

13 Hashim, Amal, “United Arab Emirates: A Toe in the Water of Political Reform,” Arab Reform Bulletin 4 (2006), (accessed 16 November 2007).

14 Interview with FNC deputy (name withheld), April 2007.

15 Interview with a member of the Kuwaiti ruling family, Kuwait, spring 2007.

16 Hendrik Van der Meulen, “The Role of Tribal and Kinship Ties in the Politics of the United Arab Emirates” (PhD diss., Tufts University, 1997), 279. Van der Meulen directed the political-affairs section of the United States embassy in Abu Dhabi in the mid-1990s and wrote an underappreciated dissertation on tribes and politics in the UAE.

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21 States also provide stipends for students, sizable grants, or interest-free loans for housing, marriage bonuses, and other benefits.

22 International Monetary Fund, “Kuwait: Statistical Appendix,” Country Report no. 08/192 (2008), 15; International Monetary Fund, “United Arab Emirates: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix,” Country Report no. 05/268 (2005), 35. Compare with Ross, Michael L., “Oil, Islam, and Women,” American Political Science Review 102 (2008), esp. 117, figure 3. The data point for Kuwait used in this figure is female citizens as a percentage of all workers.

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24 Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy, 43.

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28 International Monetary Fund, “United Arab Emirates: Selected Issues,” 29.

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30 This is according to the prime minister. “Al-Muhammad: al-Naft Sayabqi al-Kuwayt Mumtaliʾa Maliyan hata 2050 . . . ʿala al-Aqall” (Al-Muhammad: Oil Will Keep Kuwait's Coffers Full Until 2050 . . . At Least), Al-Qabas, 19 December 2007, 26.

31 Stasz, Cathleen, Eide, Eric R., and Martorell, Francisco, Post-Secondary Education in Qatar: Employer Demand, Student Choice, and Options for Policy (Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand–Qatar Policy Institute, 2007).

32 Ghazi al-Gosaibi (minister of labor), Saudi television, 14 June 2007, transcript and translation in Lexis-Nexis.

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34 International Monetary Fund, “United Arab Emirates: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix,” Country Report no. 03/67 (2003), 27.

35 Heard-Bey, Frauke, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates: A Society in Transition (London: Longman, 1982), 262.

36 Moody's Investors Service, “Moody's Assigns A1 rating to Dubai Holding,” 9 January 2007.

37 Zawya, (accessed 8 July 2008); Emaar, “Investor Relations,” (accessed 29 July 2008).

38 Colliers International, “Global Office Real Estate Review Midyear 2007,” 2007, 1.

39 “Dubai Properties' Dh110b Business Bay Sold Out,” Khaleej Times, 3 March 2007.

40 “Palm Islands Will Host 210 Hotels,” Gulf News, 2 May 2007.

41 Fonda, Daren, MacLeod, Scott, Roston, Eric, and Masters, Coco, “Inside Dubai Inc.,” Time 167 (13 March 2006).

42 International Monetary Fund, “United Arab Emirates: Selected Issues,” 29.

43 UAE Interact, “Dubai Population Makes Big Surge,” 1 March 2007, (accessed 9 April 2007).

44 Crystal, Oil and Politics, 63–64, 70.

45 Or so the sale price of leases suggests. Kuwait Financial Centre–Markaz, “Kuwait Real Estate: Commentary and Analysis,” February 2008, 30.

46 “Matha Yurid Mujtamaʿ al-ʿAmal min Majlis al-Umma al-Muqbil?” (What Does the Business Community Want from the Upcoming National Assembly?), Al-Qabas, 30 March 2008, 45.

47 “Baʿd Qisas Najah Mashariʿ al-Tanmiya fi al-Khalij . . . tibq al-Kuwayt Sahiba Safqat al-Maghbun” (Following Stories of the Success of Development Projects in the Gulf . . . Kuwait Holds a Losing Hand), Al-Qabas, 19 May 2007, 48. See also McClenaghan, Gregor, “Demand Drives Up Land Prices,” MEED: Middle East Economic Digest 51 (9 November 2007): 5761.

48 Robson, Victoria, “Getting Trading Going,” MEED: Middle East Economic Digest 51 (9 February 2007): 25.

49 Sell, Christopher, “A Welcome Development,” MEED: Middle East Economic Digest 52 (28 March 2008): 3740.

50 “MPs Maul Marina Mall,” Kuwait Times, 6 December 2006; “Al-Qabas Tuhawir al-Naʾib al-Awal li-Raʾis Ghurfat al-Tijara wa-l-Sinaʿa” (Al-Qabas Interviews the First Deputy President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Al-Qabas, 27 April 2007, 57.

51 James, Ed, “Power Failure,” MEED: Middle East Economic Digest 51 (23 February 2007): 45.

52 McClenaghan, “Demand Drives up Land Prices.”

53 Lindblom, Charles E., “The Market as Prison,” Journal of Politics 44 (1982): 324–36.

54 Kapiszewski, Andrzej, Nationals and Expatriates: Population and Labour Dilemmas of the Gulf Cooperation Council States (Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2001), 8081; Watfa, Ali Asad, “Al-Amala al-Wafida wa-Tahdiyat al-Huwiya al-Thiqafiya fi Duwal al-Khalij al-ʿArabi” (Foreign Labor and the Threat to Cultural Identity in the Arab Gulf Countries), Al-Mustaqbal al-ʿArabi 344 (October 2007): 7879.

55 Dresch, Paul, “Foreign Matter: The Place of Strangers in Gulf Society,” in Globalization and the Gulf, ed. Fox, John W., Mourtada-Sabbah, Nada, and al-Mutawa, Mohammed (London: Routledge, 2006), 205206; “Dubai Natives Protect Identity in Fast-Changing Land,” Agence France Presse, 31 May 2006.

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57 Davidson, Christopher M., “The Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai: Contrasting Roles in the International System,” Asian Affairs 38 (2007): 42.

58 al-Rifaʾi, Yusuf Hashim, Al-Azma al-Dusturiyya al-Ula fi Hayat Majlis al-Umma al-Kuwayti (The First Constitutional Crisis of the Kuwaiti National Assembly) (Kuwait: Al-Rabiyan, 1996), 1011.

59 “Al-Muslim: Man Yurid Tahwil al-Balad ila Juzur wa-Khumur Fasanadribuh ʿala Raʾsihi” (Al-Muslim: We Will Strike on the Head He Who Wishes to Turn the County Toward Islands and Alcohol), Al-Qabas, 23 May 2008, 8.

60 al-Sayegh, Fatma, “Post-9/11 Changes in the Gulf: The Case of the UAE,” Middle East Policy 11 (2004): 113–14.

61 Saleh Hmad al-Sagri, “Britain and the United Arab Emirates, 1820–1956, A Documentary Study” (PhD diss., University of Kent at Canterbury, 1988), 171–72.

62 Davidson, Christopher M., “Arab Nationalism and British Opposition in Dubai, 1920–66,” Middle Eastern Studies 43 (2007): 890.

63 Taryam, Abdullah Omran, The Establishment of the United Arab Emirates, 1950–85 (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 242.

64 Ibid., 242–43; Heard-Bey, From Trucial States, 399.

65 Al-Shahin, Nizam al-Hukm, 285–89.

66 Taryam, The Establishment, 247.

67 Rugh, William A., “The United Arab Emirates: What Are the Sources of Its Stability?Middle East Policy 5 (1997): 18.

68 Davidson, The United Arab Emirates, 196.

69 Mohammed al-Mezel, “Who are We, That's the Question,” Gulf News, 21 March 2007, (accessed 27 June 2008).

70 Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, “UAE's Demographic Imbalance,” Gulf News, 14 April 2007, (accessed 7 July 2007).

71 Al-Shahin, Nizam al-Hukm, 341.

72 “A Visit to Dubai, Inc.: Steve Kroft Reports on a Success Story in the Middle East,” CBS News, 60 Minutes, transcript posted 3 February 2007, broadcast 14 October 2007, (accessed 8 July 2008).

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74 Davidson, “Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” 44.

75 Michael Slackman, “Emirates See Fiscal Crisis As Chance to Save Culture,” New York Times, 12 November 2008, 5.

76 Website of Shaykh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, “Al Ittihad Interviews Sheikh Mohammed,” 4 December 2006, (accessed 2 March 2009).

77 Dunning, Thad, “Resource Dependence, Economic Performance, and Political Stability,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 49 (2005): 476; Smith, Benjamin, “Oil Wealth and Regime Survival in the Developing World, 1960–1999,” American Journal of Political Science 48 (2004): 243.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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