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The Consequences of Some Angry Re-Tweets: Another Medium is the Message

  • Geoffrey Martin (a1)


Most research on the Gulf states focuses on oil and its impact on state power. The literature on rentier theory almost unanimously agrees that oil rents buy off citizens and lead to socio-political stagnation. Massive protests and government attempts to address citizen demands in Kuwait between 2011 and 2013 call into question that narrative. Since those protests, the Kuwaiti government has taken steps to increase its representation of public officials and accessibility in the public sphere, including by expanding the government's presence on Instagram. How have Kuwaiti citizens voiced their opinions to government accounts? And how has the government responded to online criticism?

This essay looks at the pattern of interactions between the state and Kuwaiti citizens on Twitter and Instagram using a content analysis of government accounts. The findings raise questions about the validity of the payoff thesis and understandings of consent and acquiescence. My analysis illustrates that there is a public dialogue that moves beyond the rigid structure of state and society by which the literature has traditionally understood Gulf rentier societies.



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Geoffrey Martin is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. I would like to thank both Bashar Marhoon and Jassim Al-Awadhi, who were crucial in making this project a reality.



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2 There are several outliers in the study of culture and Islam. See for example, Foley, Sean, The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010).

3 Yom, Sean L. and Gause, F. Gregory III, “Resilient royals: How Arab monarchies hang on,” Journal of Democracy 23.4 (2012): 7488.

4 Porta, Donatella Della, “Communication in movement: social movements as agents of participatory democracy: Donatella Della Porta,” in Social Media and Democracy (Routledge, 2012), 4963.

5 Ulrichsen, Kristian Coates, “Politics and opposition in Kuwait: continuity and change,” Journal of Arabian Studies 4.2 (2014): 214–30, 221; “Kuwait MPs blast police beating of academic” Emirates 24/7, December 21, 2010,

6 Longva, Anh Nga, Walls built on sand: Migration, exclusion, and society in Kuwait, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 47.

7 Ghabra, Shafeeq, “Kuwait: at the crossroads of change or political stagnation,” Middle East Institute Policy Paper 2 (2014): 20.

8 James Calderwood, “Youth group Fifth Fence calls for Kuwait government to go,” The National, February 8, 2011,

9 James Calderwood, “Bank accounts of 14 Kuwait MPs to be frozen in bribery inquiry,” The National, September 30, 2011,

10 Clifford Krauss, “In wave of labor unrest, Kuwait customs strike halts oil shipments,” New York Times, October 10, 2011,

11 Kristin Diwan, “Kuwait Struggles for Unity at Home and in the Region,” AGSIW, December 5, 2017,

12 Coates Ulrichsen, “Politics,” 223–24.

13 Mona Kareem, “Kuwait Youth Movement Reignites Opposition,” Al Monitor, September 26, 2013,

14 F. Gregory Gause, III., “The Year the Arab Spring Went Bad,” Foreign Policy, December 31 2012,

15 Kristin Smith Diwan, “Kuwait's balancing act,” Foreign Policy, October 23, 2012

16 Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “Kuwait: Political crisis at critical juncture,” BBC, October 23, 2012,

17 Abdullah Al Shayji, “Kuwait in midst of its own Arab Spring,” December 12, 2011,

18 Ghabra, “Kuwait,” 20.

19 “Kuwait poll: Opposition wins nearly half of parliament,” Al Jazeera, November 27, 2016,

20 Ross, Michael L., “Does oil hinder democracy?World politics 53.3 (2001): 325–61.

21 Okruhlik, Gwenn, “Rentier wealth, unruly law, and the rise of opposition: the political economy of oil states,” Comparative Politics (1999): 295315, 296.

22 Ayubi, Nazih N., Over-stating the Arab state: Politics and society in the Middle East, (New York and London: I.B. Tauris, 1996), 228–29.

23 Herb, Michael, The wages of oil: Parliaments and economic development in Kuwait and the UAE (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Yom, Sean L., From resilience to revolution: How foreign interventions destabilize the Middle East (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2015), 30.

24 Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “Pushing the Limits: The Changing Rules of Kuwait's Politics,” World Politics Review, March 17, 2016,

25 James Calderwood, “Kuwaitis Happy with Emir's 1000-Dinar Gift but Still Waiting For a Plan,” The National, February 25, 2011,

26 Laura El-Katiri, Bassam Fattouh, and Paul Segal, “Anatomy of an oil-based welfare state: Rent distribution in Kuwait,” London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE): Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States 13 (January 2011),

27 Ibid.

28 Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, “Beyond allocation: The politics of legitimacy in Qatar,” (PhD diss., Georgetown University, 2013), 23.

29 Beetham, David, “Max Weber and the legitimacy of the modern state,” Analyse & Kritik 13.1 (1991): 3445; Linz, Juan José, Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000), 7071; Mitchell, “Beyond,” 28.

30 Abulof, , Uriel, . “‘Can't buy me legitimacy’: the elusive stability of Mideast rentier regimes,” Journal of International Relations and Development, 20.1 (2017): 5579.

31 Mitchell, “Beyond,” 33.

32 There are several excellent examples of scholarly work that also revises assumptions of classical rentierism. Gray (2011), Gengler (2015), and Freer (2018) work on developing a revised rentierist model, which takes into account the different dimensions of rentier state policies. Matthew Gray, A Theory of “Late Rentierism” in the Arab States of the Gulf, (Occasional Paper 7, Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, 2011); Gengler, Justin, Group conflict and political mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf: Rethinking the Rentier state (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015); Freer, Courtney, Rentier Islamism: The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gulf Monarchies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

33 Diamond, Larry, “Liberation technology,” Journal of Democracy 21.3 (2010): 69–83, 7172.

34 Morozov, Evgeny, The net delusion: How not to liberate the world (London: Penguin UK, 2011), 64.

35 Kidd, Dustin and McIntosh, Keith, “Social media and social movements,” Sociology Compass 10.9 (September 2016): 785–94, 792.

36 In contrast, there are numerous examples of scholarly work on the macro-level implications of new media use as it relates to collective action and state repression. For example, see Wolfsfeld, Gadi, Segev, Elad, and Sheafer, Tamir, “Social media and the Arab Spring: Politics comes first,” The International Journal of Press/Politics 18.2 (January 2013): 115–37.

37 All tweets and Instagram posts have had usernames and other details removed to respect the confidentiality of participants.

38 Source. Twitter

39 Source. Twitter

40 Source. Twitter

41 The sample of posts I analyze are drawn from the Instagram accounts of 34 MPs, 2 Cabinet Ministers and 19 Government ministries/organizations. In February 2017, Instagram had roughly 360,000 users in Kuwait. By May 2017 there were 1.5 million. Salem, “Social Media,” 60.

42 Michael Herb, Kuwait Politics Database, Georgia State University,

43 Figure 7 leaves out two MPs: Marzouq Al Ghanim and Safaa Al Hashem. Ghanim has 498,000 followers and Hashem 350,000. Both are celebrities in their own right and are not representative of the sample.

45 Anon, “Kuwait holds Municipal polls amid low turnout, September 28, 2013,

46 Source. Instagram

47 Source. Instagram

48 Source. Instagram

49 Source. Instagram

50 Source. Instagram

51 Source. Instagram

52 Source. Instagram

53 Source. Instagram

54 Source. Instagram

55 Source. Instagram

1 Geoffrey Martin is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. I would like to thank both Bashar Marhoon and Jassim Al-Awadhi, who were crucial in making this project a reality.


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The Consequences of Some Angry Re-Tweets: Another Medium is the Message

  • Geoffrey Martin (a1)


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