In 1815, in fearful reaction to the power of France and the democratic yearnings unleashed by the French Revolution, the great powers of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom formed the Concert of Europe. The Concert was intended to contain France after the defeat of Napoleon, but it was held together by a shared desire (particularly on the part of Russia, Prussia, and Austria) to contain democratic aspirations and maintain monarchic rule. In fact, these three conservative eastern monarchies formalized their mutual interest in stopping revolution through the Holy Alliance. In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger argues that it was combination of perceived threat (from France) and shared values (anti-democratic sentiment) that held the alliance together. One might point to the Cold War-era bloc of Western democracies as another example of an alliance held together both by a shared threat (the Soviet Union) and shared values (anti-Communism).
Fast-forward 200 years. Saudi Arabia is pushing for a union of Middle Eastern monarchies to contain the fervor of the Arab Spring: “Saudi Arabia’s rulers fear that the contagion of popular revolt could reach their country’s borders and stir its own disenfranchised citizens and residents, including dissidents, members of minority groups and foreign workers, analysts said. ‘They don’t want the spirit of our uprising to reach their shores,’ said Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a Bahraini opposition politician.” Saudi Arabia is worried not merely about democracy but about the rise of Iran and the power of its Shiite allies in places like Bahrain and Syria. You can read more about Saudi Arabia’s “counter-revolution,” going back to last summer, here.
As discussed previously in this blog, this concern for maintaining stability and fear of the chaos the Arab Spring might unleash is a perspective shared by Western “realists.” Does this put realists on the “wrong side of history,” or is their perspective a prudent one, given the unknowns associated with empowering popular movements (including the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical groups) in the Middle East?