A Transnational Opposition: International Human Rights Networks in Oil-rich Authoritarian States

Stream: Panel 43 - International Relations: Moral Claims and Global Politics 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Rentier state theory (RST) has long maintained that oil and gas-rich states are vulnerable to the fluctuations of international markets, even those states that have diversified their wealth into sovereign wealth funds. Yet the extant literature offers little insight into their vulnerability to international political pressures, short of violent conflict and foreign invasion. This paper argues that rentier states are far less politically insulated than typically assumed. It takes an in-depth case study of Bahrain, with comparative analysis to the other oil-exporting states of the Arabian Peninsula, all assumedly archetypal ‘rentier states’. Drawing from over 120 personal interviews conducted across the Gulf region and among exiled communities in the UK in 2013 and 2014, the paper traces the emergence of an internationalised opposition in Bahrain, and how this opposition uses human rights networks to place political pressure on the state. This dynamic is particularly important where an authoritarian state takes a repressive stance towards domestic opposition, or otherwise where the ability of societal groups to press for reform is limited in the domestic sphere. By forming alliances with the international human rights community, domestic opposition gains a platform upon which to advocate political reform and exert pressure on key foreign allies of the regime. In terms of an evaluation of RST, most critically, greater appreciation of how opposition regularly interacts with and acts through the international sphere needs to be integrated into the theoretical literature on the ‘rentier state’.


Jessie Moritz (Presenter), Australian National University
Jessie Moritz is a Doctoral Researcher at the Australian National University, where she specialises on the political economy of the Gulf. In 2013 she was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Exeter and from 2013-2014 she joined Qatar University as a Graduate Fellow. She has conducted interviews with over 135 citizens of Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, including members of royal families, government officials, entrepreneurs, and youth activists involved in protests since 2011. Her current research focuses on the impact of oil wealth on state-society relations and economic development in the Gulf during the post-2011 period.