Next year Egypt will celebrate its 60 years as republic. The last king ,Farouk, was famous for many things, but these days I think of one statements the king made while living his last years in a restless exile:
“One day there will only five kings in the world – the one in England and those four in the pack of cards”
I came to think of Farouk while I read about the demonstrations and revolutionary slogans which spread like a wildfire in the Arab world, where you still find many feudal and more or less old fashioned monarchies.
Many of these kings, sultans and emirs face great challenges. Although not so many cries out for republics, but demand constitutional monarchies, based on free and fair election and a government based on a parliamentarian system, the atmosphere and opinion could change very fast as the map of politics seems to get into new phases almost every week.
At present rulers in countries like Jordan, Oman, Morocco and Saudi Arabia are able to handle the situation, but they are indeed vulnerable as some of them seem to forget that generous economic package is not part of the deal or answer of the problem. People are asking for democratic reforms and structural changes, which will of course reduce the power of the ruling families.
Democratic constitutions will in any case not be as those you find in the West as the society is build up in a different way, but constitutional monarchies are very much based on the same principles: Out of politics and only ceremonial. And more transparent of course.
Such a change could be very difficult for many Arab leaders as they seem to have been able to dip not only a finger, but their entire hand in the state coffers and thus enriched themselves and stashed away a great amounts of money. In a feudal society, the link between rulers and business is much more closer and it use to happen out of sight of the ordinary people. In some of the countries we can witness a big gap between the rulers and those who are ruled.
For instance, in Tunisia, business was based on link with the presidential family. We do not know the dimension of this enrichment in other countries, but it can be huge and it can be devastating for monarchies in the region if it all became public.
So far, demands of the people in many of the Arab countries have been met with few changes and short of reforms which goes deeper in the structure of the society. Therefore monarchs like those in Jordan and Morocco or the Sultan in Oman could face a much more dangerous situation tomorrow. As changes sweeps the region, old systems has to go through transitions or fall. The destiny of many monarchs is therefore very unsecure and some of them sit on shaky thrones.
On other important aspect: The trade, like arms, with USA, Britain, France and other countries has great impact and is part of the co-operation between Arab countries and Western countries. Transparency in this field could also have many consequences, but a fall of monarchies could have a great impact on arm trade, which is a powerful and important industry in man countries.
European monarchies has fallen and been sent in exile through the past. Very few has been able to return to the throne. Spain is the only success story.
Do not think that European monarchies are untouchable.
Today, they are a kind of first family, not full blooded royalties as before and they are part of the glossy magazine life, still busy with some humanitarian work and doing charity- and they enjoy inherited privileges which is actually not in tune with other trends in the society.
Absurdity and paradoxes is part of the life: One day royalties buys clothes for a big amount of money and the next day they talk about poverty.
Some tries to find a meaningful role in using their position to focus on topics and issues of social importance, some takes a little step into the political sphere in the efforts to play are role, but ceremonial they are and should be.
Transparency: Except Sweden, where the royal fortune is under taxation, other European royal families have a secret or two about their fortunes. Some are very rich, but details are not known. This is family business behind the veil, in a modern world like our own.
Who really cares?
I will return to Farouk. Nothing is as sad as a monarch without a throne, and nothing is as sad as the fact that ignorance and lack of understanding of realities often is the reason why monarchies end up in the museum.