Research Student: Dr Sulaiman Al-Farsi
State and Democracy in Rentier States
This paper examines the special problems of democratisation now occurring in Rentier – mainly oil-producing – states.
In the past four decades, legitimacy in Rentier states has drawn upon an implicit social contract between people and regimes, where the latter provide the former with infrastructure, jobs and basic needs, and do so without taxation - yet at the expense of political participation.
This implicit social contract has resulted in a significant constraint of democracy in most Rentier states, or its reduction to a very artificial form of parliamentary representation – as in the case of Oman - where parliaments have only minimal authority.
At the same time, it served to establish states with luxurious infrastructure, advanced technology, better educated people, increased public health and growing populations. In some Rentier states, oil production is now declining due to a shortage in oil reserves. In others, oil will run out in a few decades.
This paper argues that such states now face an increase in popular demand that exceeds the ability of the state to continue with the implicit social contract of the past. University graduates cannot find jobs, their number is accumulating year on year and the private sector must now produce jobs once provided by the public sector.
The growth of associations, syndicates and unions, together with calls for political reforms, signal a rupture in the existing social contract, and thus a significant challenge to the legitimacy of Rentier states. The paper concludes that greater pressures for democratisation can be expected in oil producing states as popular demands increase and governing elites seek renewed political legitimacy.