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Where Do Absolute Monarchies Still Exist in 2023?

If you were asked "where are absolute monarchies found today?", you may be surprised to learn this old form of governance still persists in a handful of nations. As democratic reforms advanced worldwide, these regimes declined but did not disappear.

Let‘s examine the countries where kings and sultans still rule with absolute, unchecked power in 2023. Understanding how these centralized monarchies operate provides a window into a political model most of the world abandoned long ago.

What is Absolute Monarchy?

An absolute monarchy is a government where the monarch has supreme, unrestrained authority to rule. The king or queen serves as the sole sovereign leader, making laws and governing the nation at will. There is no constitution to limit their powers.

This differs drastically from constitutional monarchies like the United Kingdom, Japan, and Sweden. There, the role of monarch is largely ceremonial and symbolic. Democratic parliaments and rule of law prevent the king or queen from acting unilaterally.

Historically, absolute monarchies dominated globally. Kings and emperors possessed total control over their realms. But anti-monarchy movements emerged in the 17th-19th centuries as Enlightenment philosophy championed liberty and human rights. Democratic reforms flowered across Europe and beyond.

By the 20th century, monarchies persisting in their absolutist ways were rare. Decolonization saw new African and Asian states adopt democratic systems, rejecting their colonial master‘s model of all-powerful monarchs.

Today, experts estimate fewer than a dozen ruling monarchs worldwide hold unchecked authority. But the traditions and dynamics that sustain absolutism provide insights on governance.

Examples of Modern Absolute Monarchies

Here are the nations where absolute monarchy endures in 2023:


The small Borneo-based sultanate of Brunei has been ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah since 1967. Bolkiah descended from a royal lineage ruling Brunei for over 600 years. With an estimated $20 billion net worth, he is one of the world‘s wealthiest monarchs.

Brunei‘s constitution grants the Sultan complete executive authority. He appoints cabinet officials to oversee everything from religious affairs to trade. A unique philosophy called Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy) underpins Brunei‘s system, emphasizing Malay culture, Islamic faith, and loyalty to the Sultan.

Abundant oil and gas reserves have enabled Brunei to become one of the most developed and wealthy nations in Southeast Asia despite its tiny size. The IMF estimates its 2022 GDP per capita at $29,812. Unemployment is just 2.1%.

But concerns persist over human rights, as Brunei instituted Sharia criminal law in 2014 allowing punishments like stoning and amputation. Sultan Bolkiah shows no signs of relinquishing his absolutist grip on this stable, prosperous kingdom.


The Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is ruled by Africa‘s last remaining absolute monarch, King Mswati III. He inherited the throne in 1986 from his father, who had banned political parties.

The King appoints the prime minister, top officials, and even local chiefs. A sparse constitution delineates few limits on his power. Political pluralism remains banned.

Unlike Brunei, Eswatini struggles economically with a $4,293 GDP per capita and 29% unemployment. Over 60% of the population lives in poverty. This bleak outlook has stirred protests demanding democratic reforms.

In 2021, large demonstrations erupted against King Mswati‘s lavish lifestyle and authoritarianism. Troops cracked down violently on protestors. But unrest continues simmering, making Eswatini‘s absolutist future uncertain.


The Arabian sultanate of Oman occupies a strategic position on the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. It has been ruled by Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said since January 2020 after the death of Sultan Qaboos, who reigned for 50 years.

The ruling Al Said dynasty originated in central Arabia in the mid-1700s. As sultan, Haitham holds absolute power as head of state and government. He appoints all cabinet members and top officials. There are no legal checks on his authority.

Oil exports have allowed Oman to modernize and develop stable infrastructure and public services. Its GDP per capita stands at $16,256. But unemployment remains high at over 10%, especially among the youth.

While protests periodically erupt, especially over corruption and economic grievances, the sultan‘s control remains solidly entrenched. The traditional Arab-Ibadi faith adds legitimacy among pious citizens. Democratic reforms seem unlikely anytime soon.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia may be the most influential remaining absolute monarchy due to its wealth and its role as the cradle of Islam. Leadership passed in 2015 to King Salman from his half-brother, who had ruled for 20 years.

The Al Saud royal family has governed most of the Arabian Peninsula since 1932. Saudi kings hold total political, social, and religious authority under absolutist principles. There is no parliament or elections. King Salman heads the Council of Ministers appointing all top officials.

Oil exports have made Saudi Arabia enormously wealthy with a $22,439 GDP per capita. But youth unemployment approaches 30%, and women‘s rights remain dismal. The UN ranks Saudi Arabia 153 out of 166 nations on its human development index.

Still, reforms have arrived slowly under King Salman allowing women to drive and travel freely. The crown prince has proposed modernization goals, but within the framework of absolute monarchy. Democracy remains taboo given its perceived threats to Islam and tradition.

Vatican City

The world‘s smallest country is ruled by an absolute elected monarchy under Pope Francis. The pope serves as the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican. This rare mix of religious and political power has persisted for centuries since the Papal States era.

The pope holds complete authority over Vatican governance, acting as the supreme legislator, executor, and judge. His rule relies on the tradition of apostolic succession rather than dividends of democracy. Critics sometimes decry the Vatican‘s lack of accountability.

Yet the Vatican remains perfectly stable financially and politically. Donations from the global Catholic faithful sustain its small economy and majestic facilities. And the pope‘s claim to represent divine religious authority seems to inoculate his earthly power from serious challenge.

Can Absolute Monarchy Endure?

Most experts agree the days of absolutist monarchies are numbered. Professor Nicholasbarrier of Oxford University predicts: "None of the current regimes can sustain themselves past this century without reforms. Modern societies will no longer tolerate such centralized authority."

But for now, while critics persist, the remaining kings and sultans cling to power buttressed by wealth, faith, and fear of change. The stability of Brunei and the Vatican seems assured. Yet monarchs like those ruling Eswatini and Oman may go the way of France, Russia, and other former absolutist regimes.

Absolute monarchies are clearly declining worldwide. But understanding how these rare survivors operate provides political science insights. The future may see them transition to constitutional models or even democracies. Still, absolutism traditions run deep, so many citizens cling to their sovereigns despite unrest.

The winds of change blow softly. Yet as we have seen, protests can arise suddenly even in wealthy domains like Saudi Arabia. Kings cannot take their thrones for granted in our modern era of empowered citizens. Adaptation may be the key to ensuring absolute monarchies persist into the coming decades.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.