I saw the sentence in the following quote of Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, about Middle East upheaval in New York Times’ ‘Quotation of Today.’

I understand the meaning of stand above the fray. But as I was unsure of the meaning of have going for someone / something, I checked a dictionary. It carries have a lot going for and its definition is Having many positive personal attributes and achievement.

Having seen this, I’m not still very clear about the exact meaning of the line, What the monarchies have going for them are royal families that allow them to stand above the fray. Though I can 'guess' the meaning of the whole by context, can somebody rephrase or restructure this line so it is easier for a foreign English learner to understand?

The quote in question reads:

What the monarchies have going for them are royal families that allow them to stand above the fray, to a certain extent. It allows them to sack the government without sacking themselves.

--- Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, on why monarchs are weathering political upheaval in the Middle East.

4 Answers 4


You might rephrase it thus:

Because, in a monarchy, the royal families are not involved in the day-to day (mis)management of the country, this allows the monarch to take action against the rest of the government [parliament, congress, whatever] without being perceived as taking that action solely in order to further one particular side of a political agenda.

In the USA, the presidency is so tightly bound to one political party or the other that anything the president does is viewed almost exclusively through the lens of that party. If he cozies up to the other side, it's not because he wants to improve relations and smooth out disagreements between sides, it's because he needs some particular support in order to advance his agenda.

In a monarchy, the monarch is not supposed to have an agenda in the way that members of parliament might, and can much more readily be perceived as working for the good of the country as a whole instead of working for the advancement of his party's objectives.


It might help you to be acquainted with some of the vocabulary used.

fray a situation of intense activity, typically one incorporating an element of aggression or competition

So to "stand above the fray" means to be standing out of danger, while others fight out their (possibly bloody) battles.

"Sack" is an interesting word as used here. It has two meanings that apply.

sack [British, informal] to dismiss from employment

sack (chiefly in historical contexts) plunder and destroy (a captured town, building, or other place).

So by "sacking" the government (dismissing government officials from service) the monarchs can avoid a rebellion that might ultimately plunder and destroy the monarchy.


I don't quite understand the distinction the person is making between government, royal families, and monarchies, but I read this as something like:

The royal families are a buffer between the monarchy (king) and the government bureaucracy, which protects the (king) during times of scandal and unrest. They allow the monarch to lay blame upon the lower government.

  • 1
    Horatio, I understand there’d difference between monarch and monarchy. Monarch is ruler, king, - a person. Monarchy is kingdom, empire, a sort of ruling system. Here the speaker uses the word, ‘monarchies.’ So my understanding of this line is ‘In most of monarch countries in Middle East, they (kings, or monarch) take advantage of royal families that allow kings (or monarch) stand above the fray. Correct me if I wrong. Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 0:13

I would invert the first sentence as follows to make it clearer: "Royal families are allowed to stand above the fray. That's what they have going for them."

The rest of the passage is that they can "sack" (fire) governments without firing themselves.

The first sentence means that they aren't "exposed" to firing, because they are hereditary (as opposed to elected) leaders. The second sentence means that they have a major advantage as a result.

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