As political unrest and violence hits much of the Arab world, the Gulf states (with the exception of Bahrain) have been able to sit back more or less serenely and use their immense wealth to stave off any serious calls for political reform.
This week it was reported that the Saudi Government had extended some Riyadh largesse to more than 40,000 of its citizens by effectively writing off $5.3 billion worth of loans they had taken out.
In April the Kuwaiti parliament passed a bill that doled out government largesse to nationals with personal loans from non-Islamic banks to the tune of $2.6 billion; some 47,000 Kuwaitis benefitted. At the start of last year, nearly 7000 Emiratis got some loan relief from the federal government.
For those who advocate greater representative democracy in the Gulf states, it is easy to see why such movements have shallow roots in the region. When the social contract between the population and the government centres around economic security in exchange for political acquiescence, such largesse is a strong reaffirmation of the benefit of such arrangements. And when Gulf citizens look to Egypt and Syria and see what havoc can be wrought when autocratic rule is challenged, political acquiescence looks even more appealing.
As long as the oil and gas keep flowing and the sovereign wealth funds keep performing, things will be just fine. It's only when they don't that the problems start.
Photo by Flickr user woody1778a.