Monarchies as similar political systems
Middle East monarchies are “similar”, in both structure and institutions, connected by strong personalized links and public displays of solidarity showing that they perceive each other as such. The links that they create through personal and family relationships, their shared political vocabulary, and attempts to institutionalize the common "club” show the social processes of ingroup identification. Prolonged interpersonal contact, common elite socialization, and kinship ties form a strong ground for a common identity, which can be expressed in referring to the closeness of the other, e.g. as "family”, a proxy for perception of sameness.
While monarchic solidarity makes monarchs recognize each other as equals, some are more equal than others. Not all monarchic relationships are alike. The “club of monarchies” varies in time, size, and relevance. It is a continuum rather than a strictly bounded and clearly delimitated and defined group. The more qualities are shared by two members, the closer their connection becomes. They form a core in the group that can consist of multiple layers of increasingly weaker links. The dynastic Gulf monarchies constitute such a core in that they share family and cultural ties, a common history and experience, similar worldviews, religious outlooks, political systems, language, and alliance structure. The extra-regional monarchies of Jordan and Morocco still share many of these traits, including the core features of the political system, the Arab culture, shared cultural and historical heritage, and a distinct Sharifian ancestry linking them to the Arabian Peninsula. On the other hand, they have fewer family ties, limited geographic proximity (or none at all), and different historic experiences and trajectories. Other monarchies had even less in common with the core, such as pre-revolutionary Iran, a Persian and Shiite state. At the periphery of this monarchic core, one might situate non-authoritarian and non-Islamic monarchies such as the United Kingdom.1 This common identity of the MENA monarchies was formed over decades, if not centuries. Most existing monarchies have a common history as British creations. The Hashemite dynasties of Jordan and Iraq were “imported” by the British from what is now Saudi Arabia, while the smaller Gulf monarchies, now known as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, were created almost from scratch. To this day, Jordan is sometimes referred to as "the very epitome of artificiality in the region” (Krämer 2000, 269). Today’s borders, flags, dynasties, and even the succession regulations were either created or at least defined by Britain (Law-son 1989; Zahlan 2002). Libya, which consists of the three formerly separated provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan, an Italian colony from 1912 to 1919, was united under British administration and spearheaded by King Idris as it gained its independence in 1951 (Wright 1983).
Only Egypt, Iran, (North) Yemen, and of the current monarchies Morocco, Oman, and (in some respects) Saudi Arabia, could look back at a more or less autochthonous, though not unbroken, dynastic tradition. Still, even the Egyptian Khedive and the Pahlavi, Al Saud, and Al Bu-Said dynasties at times survived only with British (later also US) support against rebellions and coup attempts like the coup in Iran in 1953 (Owen 2004, 7). Merely Morocco
From the Arab Cold War to the Arab Spring 65 remained free from British control - because it was already a protectorate of another European colonial power, France, from 1912 to 1956. In contrast to the republics, the monarchies, not having lived through revolutions or regime changes, have not broken with the past, which is still an important part of their identity and perceived commonality. Despite decolonization movements, sometimes led by the monarchs themselves (especially in Morocco and Jordan), they have consistently remained Western allies. Common channels allow them to keep the ties with the former imperial powers as well as each other alive (Sunik 2015).
This shared history has shaped institutions and traditions of the states, linking them together and resulting in a shared socialization of the political elite. Up to this day, most of the monarchs and a large share of other ruling family members continue to be educated in British "royal education facilities” such as Harrow School, formerly also the Victoria College in Cairo, and especially the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst. Sometimes, these are the locations where the royal youth met each other for the first time. Palace schools, where ruling family members learn about the principles and responsibilities of being a ruler, often by example from other monarchies, are another arena where a shared royal identity is fostered and reified (Yom 2013). Said bin Taimur, the father and predecessor of Sultan Qaboos in Oman, visited the Mayo College in India, also known as the College of Princes, as it was an education facility for local aspirants for future rule under British regency (Allen and Rigsbee 2000, 2). Sandhurst has a special status as the military forge of kings, and many personal relationships between royals date back to the period of their joint years of study. Even for monarchs who attended at different times, it is a unifying trait.2 Almost all of the Jordanian royal family since Talal bin Abdallah's times - the first Arab Officer Cadet there (Shlaim 2009, 38) - and a large part of the rulers in the Gulf or at least their close relatives received their education at the military academy, along with the progeny of European monarchies (Teller 2014). The Bahraini king, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, is the patron of the board of trustees of Sandhurst’s alumni organization. Sandhurst Trust (Sandhurst Trust 2013).
This common socialization of the elite during a crucial period of personality development is vital for shaping perceptions of the other as well as common ideas, preferences, and conflict-resolution approaches (cf. the common socialization as an explanation for the peace among military dictatorships: Peceny, Beer, and Sanchez-Terry 2002). This intensive contact led to a strong level of personalization of ties, even in comparison to personalized republics, and raised the cooperation to a more personal and emotional level, making friends out of political counterparts from different countries.3 According to a data set, from 1980 to 2013, that was assembled by Sean Yom, monarchs interacted with each other significantly more than with presidents, even when including Egypt, which accounted for a quarter of all interactions because of its hosting of the Arab League headquarters. This is not just a matter of proximity - even a periphery monarchy like Morocco attracted more visits by Saudi royals than any other locale, except the neighboring emirate of Dubai (Yom 2014, 59-60).
Consequently, many personal and political links across boundaries arose, in many cases also family ties through marriage, which in turn led to more intensive and extensive interaction, creating a feedback loop. Especially the Gulf monarchies, but also Jordan and Morocco and even historical monarchical families, exhibit a huge amount of intermarriage, like European monarchies until the 20th century (Yom 2014, 59). The emirates of the UAE are heavily intermarried; Jordanian princes and princesses married into the Ottoman Empire and the Dubai ruling family; the Saudi king's daughter is married to a son of the king of Bahrain; Fawziya Fu'ad, the wife of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, was the sister of Egyptian King Faruq, while his son, the last king of Egypt, married the granddaughter of Mohammed Zahir Khan, the last king of Afghanistan. Some family connections go even further back. The first kings of Iraq and Jordan were brothers, and they, as well as the king of Morocco, the Sanoussis from Libya, and the Imams of the Kingdom of Yemen, derive their ancestry from the Prophet Mohammad.4 The ruling families of Kuwait and Bahrain share an ancestry of the 'Utub, a central Arabian tribe and a branch of the ’Aniza, from which also the Saudi royal family descends ('Abd al-Hakim al-Wa’ili 2002a, 1515, 2002b, 1283). All three plus the Qatari Al Thani derive their ancestry from the Najd region in central Arabia.
There is no comparable extent of personal exchange and linkage between presidents and their inner circle or between republican leaders and dynasties (Yom 2014, 59-60). Although British and especially US higher education facilities are popular among the latter as well, there are no comparable focal points or centers of political socialization. All this "regularized social interaction” shaped the monarchic elites of the Middle East into an "epistemic community” that shared and allowed for a diffusion of ideas (Yom 2014, 59). For instance, after the shah had supported the Omani sultan against rebels in Dhofar, the two exchanged ideas and talked about introducing a "White Revolution-like” reform in the separatist region, on the basis of the Iranian model, during the shah’s visit in late 1977 (Goode 2014, 461).
Monarchs often recognize this commonality through family rhetoric, a key indicator for the presence of a strong ingroup identification. The founder of the UAE and its president until 2004, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, claimed in 1972 that any differences with Saudi Arabia were merely differences of opinion as “such things even happen between brothers” and in a later interview in November that year that there were “no differences with Saudi Arabia in any real sense” (cited in: Alkim 1989, 118). He later proclaimed that the "UAE, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are one family and share the same heritage, history and a common future” during a state visit by Saudi King Khalid on March 27, 1976 (cited in: Alkim 1989, 124), and Khalid reciprocated. UAE Foreign Minister al-Suwaidi brought the term "two sisters” into circulation in 1975 for its relation with Saudi Arabia, which has since been customary (Alkim 1989. 123). During a state visit to Saudi Arabia of Omani Sultan Qaboos in December 1971, King Faisal issued a statement recognizing the Omani sultan by addressing his “royal brother” and the "brotherly people of Oman”, followed by a confidential note to raise the Sultanian address from Adhamat (Highness) to the more regal Jalalat (Majesty) (Al-Khalili 2009, 73).
Although they can acknowledge actual distant family links, for the most part, family references are metaphorical and were at times even extended to monarchs who were clearly not kin even in the broad encompassing sense of ethnicity. The Iranian shah, for instance, considered the Omani sultan a brother (Goode 2014), despite belonging to unconnected dynasties, different ethnicities, and Islamic sects. He also wrote in his memoirs about his fellow monarch in Jordan: “As for King Hussein of Jordan, I cannot praise him enough. He is not only a friend, but a brother. His qualities as a man and his goodness of heart are enhanced by great courage and a true love of his country” (Pahlavi and Waugh 1980, 146). This closeness marked the continuation of Pahlavi-Hashemite relations between the shah and Hussein's grandfather, King Abdallah, who also referred to the shah as a brother of “a sister Muslim country”. After a visit to Iran in which royal medals, the Iranian Royal Collar, and the Collar of Hussein bin Ali were exchanged. King Abdallah described how the monarchs “embraced as father and son or as brothers” while “exchanging expressions of Islamic brotherhood” (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1954, 63-64).
Similar recognitions were sometimes bestowed upon other Arab states, although they were mostly confined to the level of the state or the populace instead of individual ruler or the regime. This distinction is often visible by the more abstract appellation to “sisterhood”5 (e.g. “sisterly Arab countries” referring to Egypt and Iraq by Kuwaiti ruler Shaikh Abdallah Salim (Joyce 1998, 56)), instead of the more personal and individual “brother”. External allies, especially the Western states, were merely referred to as “friends”. The following case studies unearth more of such references and the circumstances of their employment among the examined dyads.
As this section has shown, the dynasties of the Middle East monarchies are bound together by more than just structural similarity: they are intimately linked by a close-knit personal network that is shaped by bonds of kinship, marriage, common socialization, and historical path dependence, which is the foundation on which common norms regarding nonviolence toward each other are developed. But this “monarchic club" by far surpasses the relevance of a mere alumni association of the Academy of Sandhurst: in times of crisis, vague bonds of kinship and familiarity would develop into much-more-formalized practices of ingroup solidarity, both during the Arab Cold War and the Arab Spring, as shown in the following sections.