Global Discourse
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Information, peer comparison and social interdependence: theorising the impacts of COVID-19 on Gulf domestic politics

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  • 1 Qatar University, Doha, , Qatar
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This article theorizes three layers of impacts of the Coronavirus crisis on internal GCC politics, and then identifies potential causal mechanisms operating at each level. A first and primary layer concerns governance, and revolves around the state’s performance in managing the virus outbreak. A secondary level relates to scarcity and inequality, and is linked to the state’s handling of economic and social knock-on effects of the pandemic. A tertiary level is connected to peer comparison, and involves GCC states’ (lack of) coordination of political responses at the regional or sub-regional level. Several key factors emerge from the investigation as potent catalysts for new political dynamics in the Arab Gulf states. One is the unusual availability and clarity of information about state performance surrounding Covid-19, which stands in stark contrast to the general lack of reliable governance indicators for GCC and other MENA countries. Another is the universal nature of the Coronavirus shock, which allows Gulf citizens and residents to make direct comparisons of state performance and policy responses that may reveal a disproportionately negative (or positive) personal or collective outcome. Third, the person-to-person transmission of Covid-19 shatters the traditional social and geographical segregation of Gulf societies, with once-isolated communities now directly and profoundly impacted by each other’s behavior, preferences, and incentives. Finally, variation in resource endowments and political institutions across the GCC precludes easy regional harmonization of post-Covid social and economic policy, once more inviting individual comparison with relatively advantaged or disadvantaged peers in neighboring states.

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  • 1 Qatar University, Doha, , Qatar

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