Christopher M. Davidson in Foreign Policy:
At first glance the Gulf monarchies look stable, at least compared to the broader region. In reality, however, the political and economic structures that underpin these highly autocratic states are coming under increasing pressure, and broad swathes of citizens are making hitherto unimaginable challenges to the ruling elites.
These six monarchies — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman — have faced down a number of different opposition movements over the years. However, for the most part, these movements have not been broad-based and have tended to represent only narrow sections of the indigenous populations. Moreover, given their various internal and external survival strategies — including distributive economic systems and overseas soft power accumulation — the incumbent regimes have generally been in strong, confident positions, and have usually been able to placate or sideline any opposition before it could gain too much traction. In most cases the Gulf monarchies have also been very effective at demonizing opponents, either branding them as foreign-backed fifth columns, as religious fundamentalists, or even as terrorists. In turn this has allowed rulers and their governments to portray themselves to the majority of citizens and most international observers as safe, reliable upholders of the status quo, and thus far preferable to any dangerous and unpredictable alternatives. Significantly, when modernizing forces have begun to impact their populations — often improving communications between citizens or their access to education — the Gulf monarchies have been effective at co-option, often bringing such forces under the umbrella of the state or members of ruling families, and thus managing to apply a mosaic model of traditional loyalties alongside modernization even in the first few years of the 21st century.
More recently, however, powerful opposition movements have emerged that have proved less easy to contain.