The six Persian Gulf monarchies—Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman—have for decades been undergoing sustained economic development that was matched by little if any political reform. Reform in the Middle East Oil Monarchies argues that this situation has changed. By far the most interesting essay is the introduction by Gerd Nonneman, which argues that the growing wealth of the local business communities is leading to emerging "post-rentier" dynamics in which state-controlled oil revenues are no longer the sole source of wealth. He goes on to describe the "liberalization without democratization" that each ruling family hopes to accomplish.
Successive essays look at reform by country. The essays by locals, on Oman and Kuwait, are short and thin. Those on Dubai and Saudi Arabia analyze economic reform in depth. They are interesting—full of information and sound analysis—but largely avoid the more difficult issue of what impact economic development will have on political life. Ahmed Abdelkareem Saif's essay on Qatar and even more so Neil Quilliam's essay on Bahrain explore in depth political changes in those countries. They show that there has been real liberalization—including freer expression and more public discussion—but only very limited democratization in the sense of popular control over the making of major decisions.
Three chapters deal with factors affecting political reform. Bahgat Korany denies the thesis that Islam impedes democracy. Steven Wright argues that the United States has done little to promote it. More plausible than either of those is Emma Murphy's argument that information and communication technologies are forces for modest change, rather than agents of revolutionary, political transformation.
In sum, a thin book on a thin subject—but that is still more than would have been true a decade or two ago when there would have been precious little to put in such a volume.