Of the Middle East’s eight ruling monarchies, Morocco and Jordan are peculiar. Lacking the hydrocarbon wealth of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, they carry the reputation instead as moderate kingdoms being guided toward democracy by reform-minded, Western-oriented kings.
For decades they have allowed elected parliaments, legal opposition and vibrant civil societies. During the Arab Spring, they responded to popular protests with reforms rather than repression. For some observers, then, these are oases of stability and enlightenment whose politics mirror Europe’s historical journey toward constitutional monarchy.
In truth, Morocco and Jordan look good only because the rest of the Middle East looks so bad. It doesn’t take much to appear enlightened when stacked against such regional monarchies as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which in terms of civil and political freedom rate comparably with dictatorships such as North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Morocco and Jordan are indeed stable, but no more so than any other country that is not war-ravaged Syria, Libya, Yemen or Iraq. When plucked from this regional neighborhood and its depressingly low benchmarks, Morocco and Jordan appear as something different – smart authoritarian regimes. They know how to manipulate Western concerns about human rights while inventing new ways to preserve power.