Digital Resistance and State (In)Stability in Arab Monarchies: Lessons from Kuwait and Jordan.

By Deborah L. Wheeler
Submitted to Session P4991 (Poetics of the Political, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
Ethnography;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Abstract
I have been an observer of digital media diffusion, use and impact in the MENA region since the mid-1990’s when the first public connections to the Internet were emerging in the region. By grounding my analyses of digital acts in ethnographies of everyday life, I have created a concept called “working around the state” to describe the rise of new, digitally enabled civic cultures throughout the region. The puzzle of why kingships including those in the Arabian Gulf, Jordan and Morocco, have survived, even in the face of increasingly activist publics, remains an important post-Arab Spring line of inquiry. This paper asks the question, “Will the Kingships Crumble?” Inspired by Christopher Davidson’s 2015 book After the Sheikhs, I use recently collected ethnographic evidence from Kuwait (2014) and Jordan (2016) to examine increasingly unstable relationships between state and society in these two monarchies. The decline in oil prices (Kuwait) the rise of the Syrian refugee crisis (Jordan), and the threat of ISIS based terrorism (Kuwait and Jordan) have placed enormous strain on both regimes. Will they survive? If so, how and why? What is the best course of action for Middle Eastern monarchs who are increasingly resource periled, facing mobilized angry publics, with increasingly overt threats from radical Islamist movements? What can we learn about governance and consent (or lack thereof) in these two increasingly fragile countries?
My argument is that government coercion and authoritarianism in Jordan and Kuwait indicate increasingly fragile polities; and that ultimately coerced loyalty is not stable in the long run.