Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Arab Protests: Are the Monarchies of MENA Less Vulnerable?

BBC's clickable map: Middle East protests: Country by Country; here showing Bahrain

It has been a commonplace of Western reporting on recent uprisings in MENA countries to suggest that certain countries are less vulnerable to the spreading protests, and certain regimes more stable. Generally it has been predicted that wealthy Gulf countries, extremely repressive regimes, and monarchies are less vulnerable than are poor, less repressive (all relative of course) countries that are republics. There are 8 monarchies (or emirates) among the MENA countries, the 6 GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Levantine Jordan, and North African Morocco.

Recent events in Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco would seem to disprove the theory that the uprisings wouldn't happen in such countries, while at the same time proving some of the premises. Each country is unique; and Bahrain in particular is a kingdom where the royal family are from a distinct tribe, and religion, either absentee conquerors or minority absolute rulers of a majority local population.

Both Jordan's King Abdullah II and Morocco's King Mohamed VI are young, and seen as more moderate and progressive, even though they rule "constitutional monarchies" with almost absolute power, and by divine right as descendants of the Prophet Mohamed. They are the most recent scions of their dynasties, the Hashemites (Jordan) and the Alaouites (Morocco). Both came to the throne in 1999 on the natural death of  a father: Abdullah II in February 1999 on the death of King Hussein of Jordan; Mohamed VI in July 1999 on the death of King Hassan II of Morocco. They are Western educated, supported by the West and aligned with the US.

Both King Abdullah II and King Mohamed VI had illustrious and venerated namesake ancestors, King Abdullah I (the great-grandfather of Abdullah bin Hussein bin Talal bin Abdullah) and King Mohamed V (the grandfather of Mohamed bin Hassan bin Mohamed). Each of these ancestors was responsible for moving their respective countries from colonial status to independence--from Britain in 1946 for Jordan, and from France in 1956 for Morocco. The younger kings benefit to some extent from a halo effect of this association, yet both are criticized by their populace as not sufficient in their reforms,even though in the case of Mohamed VI he was a much welcome relief from the iron hand of his father Hassan II and did guide the process of a major reform of Morocco's Islamic Family Law, the Moudwana, enacted in 2004.

Both King Abdullah II and King Mohamed VI are the sons of mixed marriages. King Abdullah's mother is Princess Muna al-Hussein, the former Antoinette "Toni" Gardner, a British secretary and daughter of a British Lt Colonel; while King Mohamed's mother is Lalla Latifa Hammou, also a second wife, and the "Mother of the Princes", whose father was a prominent member of a major Fassi Berber tribe, the Zaiane. After the death of Hassan II she married his chief of security Mohammed Mediouri. Mohamed VI had a very negative reaction, mediated by Former French President Jacques Chirac with the result that the couple now live near Paris.

Both young kings have married educated non-royal women who are more prominent on the socio-political scene than their mothers. Princess Muna was never fully accepted and rapidly sidelined after her divorce, while Lalla Latifa Hammou was secluded in Hassan II's harem as were all his wives and concubines. Queen Consort Rania, a Palestinian Jordanian, is active in national and global causes, and much loved--at least in the West. Princess Consort Lalla Salma, also a Fassi (Fez is the region of ruling tribes and prominent families in Morocco), has made history merely by having her photographs with the King (engagement, marriage, family events) published in the popular press.

So far the bloodiest most repressive actions against protesters have occurred in Bahrain, where there is little compunction to use force, live ammunition, and killing on a population seen as distinct from the ruling one, and where protests have been more insistent on regime change. In Jordan there has been a combination of demands for regime change but more for reform, in part pre-empted by King Abdullah II of Jordan's firing the government, appointing a new cabinet, and promising reform. Protests there have centred on Amman.

Protests began more recently in Morocco, and centred on the northern cities of Tangiers, Nador, and Al Hoceima. Notably this area was part of Spanish Morocco, not primarily a French colony as the rest, and the population there are from the Rifain Berber tribes, Tamazight n Arif, in other words a distinct population with a different history than the ruling Fassis, and one of the most independent minded. Still, protesters are demanding reform, specifically greater democracy within the existing constitutional monarchy, not regime change. After insisting he wouldn't be swayed by demagoguery, Mohamed VI promised further reforms.

In anticipation of posts regarding events in Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco, I thought it worthwhile to re-post an article and some of my comments on it, that formed the core of an earlier post:   Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children Part V—Marrying Across MENA. As that post states, the series of posts on Royal Saudi/Non-Saudi marriages (see the category Royal Saudi/non-Saudi on the side bar) was initiated to demonstrate the intermarriages of the Al-Saud  since the earliest days of the dynasty and the intermarriage with the Al-Wahhab (leading to the First Saudi State), and their impact on the socio-political and cultural life of Saudi Arabia.

The article مصاهرات الحكام العرب وسيلة لحفظ البقاء describes the political marriages of Saudi Royals with non-Saudi Royals, and with the political elite, across MENA. Current alliances link the Saudi and non-Saudi Royals of MENA countries from Morocco to the GCC. This article which focuses on political survival through intermarriage has new resonance given current events across the Arab world.

What follows is the original article translated, with equivalent pictures to the originals, and some other relevant ones added.

Intermarriage among Arab rulers as a means of survival
Joumana Farhat

Mohammed Bin Rashid and his wife, Haya

Political marriages join the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, intertwine thrones, and mingle the genealogies of rulers in Arab countries, following the mentality of the political marriage, which is on the increase. Though the current generation does not feel the impact, future generations will see the risks of ambitions to take over oil reserves.

The story of Nasser and Sheikha is the story of two young people who share a love of horse riding, meet, and then get married. It's a story repeated everyday, except that the everyday couple are not usually Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the King of Bahrain, and Sheikha Sheikha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, daughter of the Ruler of Dubai.Marriage joins together a long list of aristocrats, such that the ruling families in the Arab world in general, and in the Gulf in particular, are now combined.

The UAE leads the list of Arab countries which have intermarriage between members of its ruling family and those of the surrounding countries. In addition to the rulers of Bahrain, the UAE aristocratic network extends to include those from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar. In 2004, Jordan announced the wedding, of Princess Haya Al-Hussein, the half-sister of King Abdullah II, with the Ruler of Dubai, the Vice President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. As is common, a love of horse riding brought them together. As well, previously Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, Qatar's former governor, had married Reem bint Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the sister of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. Also, the Saudi Prince, Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, nicknamed Alsamir, married the daughter of the late UAE president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

As for Jordan, in addition to Princess Haya, another highlight is the marriage of a cousin of Jordan's King to a cousin of Sultan Qaboos. Also, it was reported that an attempt was made by King Abdullah II to marry the daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Aisha.

In Saudi Arabia, there have been multiple intermarriages with the rulers of Arab countries, including the UAE, Lebanon, and Syria. The Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, has been the brother-in-law of Rafaat al-Assad, and the uncle of the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, since the eighties, as one of King Abdullah's wives is Rafaat al-Assad’s sister. Also, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz married Princess Mona Riad El-Solh, daughter of President Riad Solh, the first Prime Minister of Lebanon after independence. Marriage and family peace networks extend to Morocco: the late Amir Abdullah (uncle of the current King Mohammed VI) and Princess Lamia Solh married in 1961, after meeting in Paris where they were both studying.

Intermarriage is not only between States, but it is distributed within a single country in a strategic manner, and aims to strengthen each other’s rule; as happened in the marriage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, with the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum--believed to be the culmination of the reconciliation between the two families, after the emergence of political differences between them.

From the above, it is clear that the Arab rulers now form a network of intermarriages and are interrelated with each other. For example, the son of the King of Bahrain will not only be the new son-in-law of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but will be a brother-in-law to the King of Jordan, and a relative of both Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, the Crown Prince of Fujairah, who each married a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. Also, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud became, in turn, a relative of the King of Jordan and of the King of Bahrain.

As for the causes of intermarriage among the ruling families, some people believe they contribute to strengthening relations between these countries.This is not something new, especially in the political history of the Arabs; and, the world is full of political marriages that have a role as a social means to achieve political goals. In the opinion of the authors of «Political Marriages in the Mameluke Era», a professor of Islamic history, Fadel Jaber Al-Doha, and University Lecturer Thamer Numan, surmise that the motives behind the marriages of the ruling classes or between the sons and daughters of neighboring countries «is in the political interest, such as trying to limit the privileges of power between them, or an attempt to seize power or gain the trust of some neighboring countries, leading in the end to a secure border ».

GE Peterson, for his part, explains, in a study entitled «Rulers, Traders and the Senate in Gulf Policy: The Function of Family Networks», that this is an essential means by which rulers in the Gulf protect themselves. Family networks configure and start a hierarchy or a chain of command in government and society that is completely loyal to them. The advantages of family networks also include the building of alliances through marriage between royal families to be exploited when necessary.

A prominent example provided by Peterson, is Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali bin Jabor Al Thani, of Qatar, who ruled from 1960 until 1972. Peterson points out that Sheikh Ahmad, after his overthrow in 1972, found a safe haven in Dubai and took up residence there because of his marriage to one of the daughters of Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum; and, later, also married one of his daughters to one of the sons of the ruling family in the UAE.

Thus, while, on the face of it, equestrian hobbies and heir marriages unite ruling families in the Arab world, underneath, they represent interests and political ambitions. It is feared that in the long run, these family networks will lead to the emergence of power struggles.

The marriage of the sister of King Farouk of Egypt, Fawzia, to Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was then Crown Prince of Iran before becoming its Shah, failed to provide political protection. It is rumored that Shah Reza Mirza Khan planned to marry his son, Mohammad Reza to the family of Muhammad Ali in Egypt as a way to expand the foreign political relations of Iran. However, the collapse of the marriage after a period of separation still reverberates even today, in Egyptian-Iranian estrangement, even though there are different rulers and types of rule in each country after the collapse of dynasties in both countries.

Much as these Royal Saudi/MENA marriages may be described as part of the mixed marriage patterns of the progeny of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, one is reminded of the marrying patterns of European Royalty, particularly the progeny of Queen Victoria, who together formed much of the Royalty of Europe from Russia, to Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Norway Germany, Spain, and the UK.

While such marriages didn’t preclude love relationships, as Queen Victory herself had with the German Prince Albert whom she married, these familial alliances were both severed and strengthened through WWI and WWII, as England and Germany lined up against each other, and the Tsar in WWI, and the Greeks in WWII sought refuge in Western Europe. Of course the family of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra did not make it, but the families of Prince Philip, the future husband of Queen Elizabeth II, and Queen Sofia of Spain did.

While the author of the article on the intermarriages among the royalty of  MENA countries suggests both solidarity and political/sibling rivalry, it seems that thus far in terms of current events there is solidarity, most notably of Saudi Arabia and Qatar with Bahrain. No doubt all are looking over their shoulders when not fixing their gaze on their neighbours, and confrères.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


coolred38 said...

The only thing I have learned from all this mingling of "royalty" is that right now while all these Arab countries are going up in flames by various dictators and ruling familis...not one Arab nation is condemning the other officially. Yes, the people are, the lower key officials might be, and definitely news channels etc but as for heads of state, Kings etc...not a peep. All these marriges means tribal and family connections means too much to stir the hornets nest by condemning your brother in law, uncle etc. Shame really...they are all going down one by one. I would think being the ONE Arab ruler to stand out from the crowd and actively and vocally condemn this would be the smart thing to do...but then again when speaking of doing the smart thing....well....

Jay Kactuz said...

I’m with Red. This is just the haves keeping themselves from the have-nots and living high on the hog at the people's expense. Remember Louis XVI!

Anyway, when it comes to Royal marriages, I always think of old Dom Pedro II, second emperor of Brazil. In about 1840 (?) it was decided that the young Emperor needed a wife. Of course, as everybody knows, a royal has to marry a royal. The problem was there were no other royals in the Americas, only in Europe, and no European Royalty had even visited the new Continents. Anyway, the king’s men had their ambassadors look around Europe to find a suitable young princess for Pedro. No way, Jose. The idea of any young princess moving to the jungles of Brazil and living in banana trees did not go over well. Even after the Brazilian diplomats explained that Rio was a lovely modern city and the Empire of Brazil was a big as all of Europe, there were still no takers for the trip across the Atlantic. Oh yes, the Portuguese royal family, called the Braganças, had a pretty bad reputation throughout Europe. This might have had something to do with his grandparents, Dom Joao and chickens (another good story there!), or Joaquina and her escapades (another story!) or the Queen mother, known to history as Mad Maria (wonder why), or even the rather strange stories about the unstable and lascivious behavior of young Pedro’s father, Pedro I and Brazil’s first emperor. The stories about these people, even before they fled to Brazil during the Napoleonic wars, were whispered in the palaces of Europe and may not have helped, but that is only a guess.

Then it just so happened that the king of Naples got the news and remembered that his daughter Teresa was still single and without any perspective suitors. This might have had something to do with her big nose, bad skin, limp and weight problem. Maybe. Anyway the king sent a message to the young emperor saying his lovely daughter was available. Pedro II, being no fool, asked for a picture. No problem, said the king, and called in a painter to do a portrait of the young princess. It seems that the painter may have not be entirely honest, and maybe his descendents invented Photoshop, but after receiving the picture Pedro looked at it and said “not bad, kind of hot” or something like that. Anyway the young princess got on a boat and headed off to the jungles of Brazil, I mean the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro.

So the ship sails into Guanabara Bay and the young Emperor is anxiously waiting for his princess. He had seen all the Disney movies and knew that princesses were really pretty. The boat docked and his heart was a-thumping. Soon a figure appears on deck and then started down the gangway to the pier. At that moment Pedro almost had a heart attack.

Years later the old Emperor told confidents that he almost told her to turn around and leave (“get the hell out of here”), but because he was an honorable man and had given his word to her father he married the girl. Their story was long, sweet and bitter. They were married for about 50 years, had six kids (only 2 survived) and died together in exile in a small hotel in Paris after Brazil became a republic in 1889. In his old age, he would often tell other that Teresa had been a good wife.

The moral of the story: there is none except that beauty is not everything. Yes, Pedro did have lovers (like I said, teresa was really ugly and ninguem e’de ferro!) but he was a fine gentleman, cultured and honorable.

oby said...

Aww, come on Jay...give the kid a break...she wasn't exactly wearing a flea collar...could've been worse.


oby said...


Jay Kactuz said...

Actually she may have aged well. Or then, maybe Pedro had too many expectations and Gisele was not available.
Anyway, maybe all the stories about broken mirrors were not true, then.

Susanne said...

LOL @ Oby! :)


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