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The best known monarchy is no doubt the various Commonwealth realms ruled over by Queen Elizabeth. However, she is generally seen as mostly a figurehead, with elected officials being the ones that do the actual ruling.

I'm interested in monarchies where a king or queen has real power. That would include any absolute monarchy, but I'm also including a constitutional monarchy if the restrictions set upon the monarch by such a constitution are limited and the monarch still has a wide amount of power and freedom to exercise said power. If the monarch doesn't have at least as much power as the president has in the USA then I wouldn't consider them a 'real' monarch, at least for the sake of this question.

I realize 'biggest' is a rather imprecise term as well, but I want to leave that open to interpretation. You can use physical size, population, GDP, per capital GDP etc, all I'm interested in is seeing how well some of the more successful modern-day monarchies are doing compared to more modern forms of government.

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    "f the monarch doesn't have at least as much power as President has in the USA then I wouldn't consider them a 'real' monarch, " Most president don't have that much power
    – CharybdeBE
    Mar 31 at 7:24
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    @CharybdeBE Critically though, US presidents are CiC and can unilaterally block legislation. If a monarch can't refuse consent to a law, that seems like a pretty decent sniff test to me. Mar 31 at 15:37
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    I would consider the queen of England to be a literal living constitution. A failsafe just in case some political party gets elected and completely looses the plot.
    – Neil Meyer
    Apr 1 at 16:20
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    @NeilMeyer if the paper doesn't match reality, is the paper wrong, or the reality? Any unconventional and bad orders from the queen will probably be ignored... and convert the UK to a republic.
    – user253751
    Apr 1 at 17:57
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    @NeilMeyer "Figure head" in this case is shorthand, and I read the question to be clarifying that a monarch with actual political power comparable to that of the current Queen Elizabeth in another political system, even if that is not quite "zero" and may be expanded in a constitutional crisis or ambiguity, doesn't count for purposes of this question. in contrast, the powers that King George III had during the American Revolution probably would qualify.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 1 at 21:53

1 Answer 1

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By almost any measure, Saudi Arabia takes the prize.

Most of the absolute monarchies or even monarchies where the monarchy has more than symbolic power outside a rare constitutional crisis are in the Middle East and North Africa (Brunei and a few African micro-states would be the other main exceptions). Specifically:

the world’s current absolute monarchies are Brunei, Eswatini [f.k.a. Swaziland], Oman, Saudi Arabia, Vatican City, and the seven territories of the United Arab Emirates

While not strictly an absolute monarchy, Morocco has a king with real power, as do Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia is a larger country by any measure, than any of the others.

The Roman Catholic church holds sway over more than 1 billion people, but not in the sense that the question implies. It is an absolute monarchy without secular competition over only a few thousand priests and lay religious officials in tiny Vatican City, and its absolute monarchy's succession is not hereditary.

North Korea is arguably one of the world's largest absolute monarchies but is not formally organized in that manner, even though its rulership has passed from father to son twice and the ruler of North Korea has practical power comparable to an absolute monarch.

Even then, however, Saudi Arabia probably edges out North Korean in terms of country size by most measures.

Saudi Arabia has 34.8 million people, 800,000 square miles, and a GDP of $1.6 trillion ($46,762 per capita) and many international allies. North Korea has 25.8 million people, 46,540 square miles, and a GDP that is not well estimated, but is almost surely less per capita and overall than Saudi Arabia. North Korea is highly isolated internationally.

Both North Korea and Saudi Arabia have moderately powerful military forces. North Korea has nuclear missiles (experimental), a large navy, and a high level of mobilization, but low-technology, out-of-date equipment, and poor training for its troops. Saudi Arabia has a smaller military without nuclear weapons, but what it has is state of the art.

I'm interested in is seeing how well some of the more successful modern-day monarchies are doing compared to more modern forms of government.

It is worth noting that the most recent wave of revolutions against non-democratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, sometimes called Arab Spring, was more successful in the case of non-monarchies (e.g. Libya and Syria) than in the case of monarchies in the region.

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    The Kingdom of Thailand would be another candidate. It has 70 million people, i.e. double that of Saudi Arabia, although less area and a lower overall GDP. So it really depends on the chosen metric.
    – R.K.
    Mar 31 at 7:41
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    I'd say North Korea is a dictatorship, but not a monarchy. The distinction is that Kim's position can be potentially taken over by someone who amasses more political power. It's more that two father-to-son transitions have been successful.
    – HK-51
    Mar 31 at 8:45
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    @ZOMVID-21 If it quacks like a duck...
    – Dan M.
    Mar 31 at 12:16
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    @R.K. Thailand's monarchy is pretty clearly a constitutional monarchy. In 1932 "the people were granted a constitution, ending 150 years of absolute Chakri rule. From then on the role of the monarch was relegated to that of a symbolic head of state. His powers from then on were exercised by a prime minister and the national assembly." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchy_of_Thailand
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 31 at 12:56
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    @MarkRogers There are hereditary monarchies and there are elective monarchies. One key difference between a president and an elective monarch is that presidents have a limited term after which there is another election, while a monarch is usually elected for life.
    – Philipp
    Apr 1 at 22:48

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