||In 2011 an unprecedented wave of protests erupted from Tunisia and soon spread throughout the Arab World. While the initial euphoria was backed by the revolutions in Tunis and Cairo, the course of events in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and ultimately Syria began to highlight that a romantic view of revolutions seems out of place.
The two kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco have also witnessed significant protests in 2011 especially. However, these did not lead to a revolution – in fact, this was not their goal. The vast majority of those rallying in the streets demanded reforms of Jordan's and Morocco's political institutions, including the parliament, the electoral law and the constitution. This development, combined with the resilience of the Gulf monarchies (with Bahrain as a critical case), has once again brought the monarchy debate back into the limelight. The major underlying question here is does monarchy matter?
Facing protests, both Abdullah II and Muhammad VI responded by reforming institutions. In Jordan, the constitution was amended and elections were held. In Morocco, the people could decide on a new constitution by means of a referendum and early elections were held. While ostensibly giving in to the demands of the protesters, these changes did not challenge the status quo but left Abdullah II and Muhammad VI with their almost omnipotent power.
From a theoretical perspective this seems particularly interesting. Different approaches, stressing the impact of rentierism, foreign support or family participation, have attempted to explain the survival of monarchies in the Arab World over the past decades. The euphoria of the 'third wave of democratization' (Huntington) and the 'end of history' (Fukuyama) then transcended into scholarly publications during the 1990s, fostering the idea of institutions, once in place, contributing to a gradual process of democratization. During the second half of the 2000s scholars then began to realize that such effects failed to materialize in many cases. In fact, incumbents seemed to have employed democratic rhetoric and (re-)installed parliaments as well as elections while at the same time limiting their power and impact. In Jordan and Morocco these institutions also included another crucial function to Abdullah II and Muhammad VI respectively: they provided an intermediary level between king and people that can be criticized. In order to underpin this analysis, several primary sources for selected key dates since 2011 were taken into account besides the secondary literature.
For Jordan, speeches of Abdullah II were considered as well as the text of the constitution, seeing that the latter was subject to change in 2011. Moreover, the coverage of the pro-monarchy newspaper Al-Dustour, the independent Ammon News and the country's main political opposition, the Islamic Action Front IAF, was analyzed. In a similar fashion, the statements of Muhammad VI and the kingdom's constitution were looked at for Morocco. Furthermore, the pro-monarchy newspaper Al-Sabah and the independent Al-Masa' were part of the analysis as well as Morocco's Islamist political opposition party, the Parti de la Justice et du Développement PJD, and the 20 February Movement, a youth group that was founded in early 2011.
As the analysis suggests, the discourse about changes in the political system that erupted again in 2011 was almost entirely directed at reforming political institutions. Across the board official statements, pro-monarchy newspapers, but also independent and oppositional groups, made use of a technical language that focused on reforming the parliament, the electoral law or the constitution. These actors also approved the changes made respectively, seeing a solution and a step forward in them. Here, only little demands for a continued reform were raised. All these actors seemed to operate within the boundaries defined by the palace. The example of the 20 February Movement in Morocco stressed how deviating from this public reform discourse can result in selective repression and crackdown.
The monarchies Jordan and Morocco have dodged the Arab Spring by allowing and engaging in institutional reforms. Although constitutions were amended or changed and elections were held the power balance has not changed. Accordingly, these institutions have helped Abdullah II and Muhammad VI to maintain their hold onto power rather than lowering it.
Such an understanding of political institutions challenges the idea of them ultimately bringing about democratic change. Moreover, with regards to the monarchy debate the findings suggest that such a political setup, in which institutions serve as intermediary between king and people, allows the kings to remain seemingly distant from daily politics. It appears more difficult for presidents or prime minister, as heads of states in republics, to act in a similar fashion as they are by definition presiding the government.