For Mohammed Morsi, the silence must seem deafening. After days of anxious waiting and mass demonstrations, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) finally certified Mr. Morsi as the winner in the Egyptian elections, making him the first democratically elected president in Egyptian history. But if the Egyptian street was jubilant, only a short skip over the Red Sea, the Gulf States were mired in uniform dejection.
In Saudi Arabia, arguably the most powerful and influential Arab state at the moment, the royal authorities did not even deign to mention the election, let alone congratulate Mr. Morsi on his victory. It was not until a full day had passed that the royal court issued a short note of congratulations. Further eastward, the reception was not much better. In the UAE, the official note of congratulations was curt and failed to even mention Mr. Morsi's name, while Ahmed Shafiq--the president elect's former opponent--was given safe harbor in the country only a day after the election. Likewise, the reception was firmly polite in Kuwait and Jordan.
The reason why is easy enough to understand, and many analysts have already touched on it. Almost all of these monarchies have had deeply antagonistic and violent relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the past. For Saudi Arabia in particular, the re-emergence of civil-political Islam poses an existential threat to the Kingdom. The al-Saud royal family fortifies their legitimacy via their clerical alliance and their self-appointed roles as promoters and defenders of Islam. The rise of an alternative brand of Islamic politics remains at the core of the Kingdom's deepest fears. For the rest of the Gulf nations, the mere existence of a populist Islamic political movement poses a threat due to fears of its potential popularity and what the Egyptian example might mean for their countries.
While the Gulf governments and their allies spent much of the past week grudgingly offering support, their press outlets and commentators were singing a different tune. In Saudi Arabia, official grumbling had a mixed effect on the press reaction to say the least. Outlets like Asharq Alawsat and the Saudi Gazette (the Kingdom’s largest English daily) castigated the Egyptian military establishment as a “junta” in their articles, and celebrated Morsi’s victory, devoting significant time to the celebrations in Cairo. In Kuwait, several prominent figures, including the head of the legislative assembly Ahmed al-Sadoun, spoke to Al-Khabar news and offered glowing praise for Morsi, adding their satisfaction that attempts by “Arab countries” to manipulate the election had failed. In the UAE, the prominent Gulf News, Khaleej Times, and Gulf Today followed a similar note, and even took time to cover large ex-patriot celebrations in the Emirates.
It is safe to say that the regional media trend more or less followed this pattern, outliers and state outlets notwithstanding. The lexicon and style of coverage of both the military and Shafiq was invariably negative, while that of Morsi or the protesters was positive, both before and immediately following the election certification. The lesson is one that should seem obvious: the citizens of the Gulf are excited by the notion of political representation. For more than a year, analysts have been repeating the refrain that the governments of the Gulf fear the multitude of Arab uprisings as precursors to their own troubles.
But now the Gulf monarchies are confronted with what is arguably a worse prospect than a violent uprising: a civil one. For decades, the only legitimate elections in the Muslim world took place in secular Turkey, which was easy to dismiss as a cultural and political outlier. Now the rise of democracy in Egypt even with all its remaining hurdles stands as a direct challenge to the Gulf mode of government. The more peaceful, stable, and prosperous the new Egyptian political system proves to be, the greater the impact will be.
Admittedly, it is unlikely that Saudi or Emirati citizens will gather in the streets waiving petitions in their hands anytime soon. But the precedent is now being established in Egypt, and the status-quo cannot be maintained, even in Saudi Arabia, forever. Perhaps Mr. Morsi said it best during his victory speech: “the revolution continues.”
Joshua Jacobs is a Gulf Policy Analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.