Oil, Coalitions, and Regime Durability: the Origins and Persistence of Popular Rentierism in Kuwait

  • Sean L. YomEmail author


While the canonical literature on oil wealth suggests that hydrocarbon windfalls encourage repressive despotism, Kuwait provides a case of an oil-rich autocracy governing instead through popular rentierism—that is, through a broad coalition of social forces, one that furnishes enduring loyalty from below while constraining abuses of state power from above. This paper provides a theoretically guided explanation for this exceptional outcome. I argue that the Kuwaiti regime’s coalitional bargains originated in the pre-oil era, when domestic opposition and geopolitical constrictions compelled it to forge new social alliances at the dawn of modern statehood. This inclusionary strategy mediated the subsequent effect of oil rents, which the regime used to institutionalize its mass base with costly material and symbolic side payments. Such popular incorporation bound large constituent classes to the regime’s survival, precluding the need for widespread repression. After 50 years, these coalitional bargains have also proven remarkably resilient, as social actors have continued to endorse the autocratic leadership despite economic crisis and wartime defeat.


Kuwait Authoritarianism Oil Rents Regime durability Geopolitics 



The author thanks Aqil Shah, Dong-Wook Kim, two anonymous reviewers, and the editors of SCID for their gracious comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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