Authoritarianism and populism

When Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that it was the ‘End of History’ following the collapse of communism, I’m sure he didn’t suspect what Freedom House have recently reported, that democracy has stalled (Freedom House, 2018).

Freedom in the World 2018 Freedom House

It appears that it isn’t at all the end of history, and it’s quite optimistic to have assumed that authoritarian states would lose their thirst for power. A good example of how authoritarian states maintain power amidst a revolutionary environment is the Middle East, I point to the Middle East for two reasons:

I quite enjoyed reading this article, which discusses the subject:

ElklitSvensson83199732 46 pdf


..and because the revolutions which marred some Arab states seemed almost to be taking off in the neighbouring Gulf kingdoms (see chart below), but it didn’t quite happen – so it serves as an apt example.

pdf (1)

Yom and Svensson’s article challenges the convention that Arab monarchies are merely outliers who have sustained their power through the traditional ties between individuals and their leaders.

Gulf monarchs have strategized to maintain power by playing up to the popular will of the people, their ability to form alliances with different parts of their society: businesses; different religious sects and communities; and so on. But of course, it’s the power that their wealth affords them that is the salient ingredient in pacifying dissent. By possessing all this, monarchs are able to play up to the popular will of the people, muting the potential for opposition through cash handouts.

Charles Tilly (2004, 4) points to a series of qualities you need to foster a successful social movement, and Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait “failed to attract a critical mass of public support” (Yom and Svensson, 2012, 80), which is obviously very important for mobilisation. The absence of mobilisation in some other monarchical states is attribued to oil and gas wealth which afforded the four Gulf monarchs who experienced little protest the ability to create jobs and provide welfare, enough to where people are wholly reliant on their state for their standard of living, unlike in Egypt, beset by high youth unemployment and a tired job market led to leaders being easily perceived to have outstayed their welcome. It signals to me that discomfort is a precursor to revolution.

Moving on, I foresee two things, oil and gas reserves aren’t permanent. As we advance into the future, our appetite for alternative fuels will grow. According to Yom’s article, hydrocarbon rents are a critical facet to the power these authoritarian governments sustain, without which I wonder to what extent they’ll last.


Tilly, Charles (2004). Social Movements 1768-2004. Colorada: Paradigm Publishers.

Freedom House. (2018). Freedom in the World 2018: Democracy in Crisis. Available: Last accessed 24th March 2018.

Haber, Stephen. (2006). Authoritarian Government. In: Weingast, Barry R, Wittman, Donald A The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.693-708.

Yom, S and Gause, G (2012). “Resilient Royals: How Arab Monarchies Hang on”, Journal of Democracy, 24 (3): 5-17.

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