One could comprehensively sum up the Arab world’s dilemma of political transition into two main challenges; the problems related to the hereditary system of governance (in monarchical regimes), and the difficulties surrounding the peaceful rotation of power (in republican regimes).
Despite differences between the two systems institutionally, constitutionally and on a general appearance level, some internal developments and transformations that have emerged in recent decades have substantially brought these two systems together, the most prominent of which are the two central phenomena of:
1. Resorting to coups to resolve the conflict over rule, or dethroning the ruler from the presiding royal family, in the instances where the transition of power relies upon hereditary succession and the nomination of a crown prince. Clearly, this development, familiar to some monarchical regimes, is a result of two basic causes; the first of which is related to the traditional historical factor (the law of decaying dynasties), while the second centers on the growing role of the military institution within the structural configuration of small emirates, which would explain the security challenges that have generated as a result of the immigration phenomenon, and how it reflects on the internal situation and the strategic status of these countries.
2. The emergence of hereditary republics, which has become an inevitable reality in some countries, is showing signs of manifestation in other countries. This phenomenon goes back to the serious challenges posed by the conflict that arises in the peaceful transition of power, which is a direct product of unilateral and exclusive measures in governing, which in turn blocks all roads to transformation. This leaves no room for the peaceful delegation of power and the only option left is a coup. From this angle, the hereditary solution is the crafty ploy mastered by unilateral regimes to secure the rule and ensure that it stays within the family’s tight circle – which summarizes the political system itself.
As such, the system of pledging allegiance as decreed by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz at the end of last Ramadan represents a qualitative shift in the Arab political scene. The royal decree has presented an important and unprecedented framework that enables resolving matters that arise with the transition of power in hereditary monarchical systems.
It is a well-known fact that such systems ascribe the responsibility of selecting the crown prince to the incumbent king; the real difference, however, emerges from determining the criteria for this selection. Some limit this selection to the sons of the king or prince, whereas others believe in the necessity of expanding the range to include all members and branches of the ruling family. If the first mechanism practically resolves some of the difficulties in the transition of power, it also creates new difficulties that result from the preset legal and systematic exclusion of some branches of the ruling family in the case where the required standards are not available in the ruler’s progeny. The second mechanism requires rationing, regulation and disciplinary procedures; otherwise it transforms to become a factor of dissention and sedition, which can be the result of a growth in other branches of power within the ruling family.
The greatest advantage of the system introduced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is that it is able to prevent two main dangers: The risk of limiting the selection of the crown prince from the presiding king’s descendents, and the risk of failing to regulate relations and balances within the ruling family. These two problems are impossible to avoid unless there appeared the essential and important condition of the king’s voluntary relinquishment of his right to choose his heir. This is the fact that distinguishes the Saudi model from all other Arab monarchies.
It must be noted that the importance of these Saudi reforms surpasses the local characteristic onto the centrality of the country with its spiritual, economic and regional significance within the Arab and Islamic paradigm, and within the Gulf region in particular.
The new system of pledging allegiance is the third stop along the road to reform, which started with modernizing the state’s administrative and institutional structures in the 1960s and 1970s. Secondly, it resumed by drafting the Basic Law for the government and the provincial system, and then went on to establish the Shura Council in the early 1990s. These new laws that govern the transition of power build upon that preexisting foundation.
A result of meticulous and wise studies, it is clear that these reforms are classified under the important political and intellectual discourse that is currently known in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within a consultative context and within its institutional and regulatory institutions (the national dialogue seminars were supervised by the National Dialogue Center, which is directly affiliated to the King).
Dilemmas that arise within the Saudi elite, like all other Arab elites, in this critical stage in the history of the country and that of the region at large, revolve around the major problem of the expansion and rationing of participation in the decision-making process and its management within a solid social fabric and a stable political climate.
It is commendable how the Saudi leadership has dealt with this equation seriously and with a sharp sense of supervision, taking heed of the prerequisites for transformation and regeneration required at this stage.