By Abdirahman Mohamed Dirye
The world has witnessed the Arab Spring’s domino effect across northern Africa and Middle Eastern tyrannies bypass Gulf oil totalitarian family-run states. Unlike the financial storms that originated from the U.S. and then spread to the rest of the western world due to similarities of the economic structures, the Arab Spring bypassed some countries and destroyed others like a powerful giant, remotely-controlled machine precisely guided by external forces to topple certain governments—doing so, of course, well beyond anyone’s expectation!
The Arab Spring is a voluntary, spontaneous revolution driven by ordinary citizens demanding freedom and better life. Seeing the turbulent Arab Spring take twists and turns, indiscriminately sparing only selective oil-y oppressors, left some doubt over why this was so. The democratic world, however, must seize this once in a lifetime opportunity to take action.
In places where citizens deal with “immortal” kings, born to misrule for eternity in royal chains of family successions, the situation may reach a point of no return as the countries get used to these family enterprises of coterie from one generation to another taking snapshots with elected American presidents without shame! A culture of addiction to dictatorship can develop in these Gulf countries if the democratic world lets the golden opportunity slip out of hand again.
Foolish But Oil-Rich Monarchies
Let me explore the factors that separated the two regions with special focus on the Arabian Gulf. North Africa has been enjoying some freedom in comparing with oppressive monarchies in the Middle East, with notable exception of the State Of Israeli the “shining city on a hill” in the dark ocean where Jews, Muslims, and Christians equally enjoy democratic rights.
For instance, women in Tunisia, the epicenter of major stormy revolutions, used to enjoy relatively unique and yet superficial freedoms including women’s right to travel on their own and civil marriage. Gulf monarchies were able to buy time and prolong their lifetime and the strength of religious institutions, while most of the fallen regimes dared to outlaw polygamy.
But as a religious tyranny rather than being a region with credible regimes, the Gulf region, is second to none!
How much leeway can monarchs take away from their nationals? Oppressed nationals have been freedom-deprived, even slaves to the royal families who are unaccountable to none and run their countries as family businesses. But the enigma is that the Gulf suppressed people who didn’t jump on the ongoing Arab Spring bandwagon so far as to shake off the oppressive regimes and break the cycle. Redistribution of some oil revenues, including building and distributing condos or Biyut Sha’biyah free of charge as well as other appeasements to buy the loyalty of the citizens, have being going on for the past several decades; but how mere material wealth redistribution makes nationals oblivious of their basic human rights still a mystery.
There are geographic differences; in North Africa, countries such as Morocco, Tunis, Egypt, and Libya are very close to Europe and can smell the democracy and human rights. Besides, North Africans are more open to judge the merits and demerits of democracy rather than their walled and blindfolded counterparts in the Gulf countries.
Libya, however, is an exceptional case where oil benefited the ordinary citizen very little despite huge oil wealth and its close proximity to European markets. During the Gaddafi era, due to corruption and maladministration of the national wealth, income disparity in Libya varied from California-like levels at the highest to Somalia-like levels at the lowest where people barely survive.
The Middle East, excluding Israel, has been like Guantanamo Bay for its citizens for almost half century. Freedom was out of the political lexicon as well as Kafir’s business until the Arab Spring. The absence of free press and genuine human rights advocates exacerbated the dire situation. Lack of freedom has been a festering problem for the Gulf region since independence. Qatar’s arrest of a pop poet critical to the Qatari royal family which came to light very recently indicates how far the region has fallen behind the rest of world in terms of freedom of expression and human rights.
And yet the people in region remains less responsive to Arab Spring protests which triggered Moscow anti-dictatorship rallies, New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement, and places far beyond. It was the impoverished youth in North Africa who inherited abject poverty for the third generation that led the Arab Spring. The Gulf nationals born with silver spoons in their mouths seem unbothered at the rotten totalitarianism at their doorstep. If one claims to be super rich it is Norwegians who are rich to an unbelievable extent but have unrelenting democratic rights. The Gulf wealth and the Norwegian wealth are still poles apart. The former always endures shortages of life basics much like Somalia; the latter suffer stunning plethora and luxury.
Images of peaceful Shiite Muslim demonstrators in Manama demanding freedom, democracy, and justice while confronting tanks have been televised for the first time since oil-installed families, such as Al-Nahyans of UAE, Thanis of Qatar, and Alla-Saudis of Saudi Arabia came to power! And later the Bahraini royal family categorically denied entry to international press to cover up the wholesale oppressive measures the tyranny has taken; Shiites are the majority and have been persecuting by ruling minority like South Africa used to. The king, however, called for reform, but many local activists as well as international human rights champions see Bahrain’s reforms as simple window-dressing.
Saudis are worried about Shiite Muslims’ ascendancy to power in Bahraini, an Arab-speaking nation, at their doorstep, fearing they could become a satellite country to hostile Iran which occupies disputed islands. Therefore, violating international laws to do someone else’s business, Saudi army forces willingly joined Bahrain military forces to crack down peaceful demonstrators to foil democracy’s arrival to Arabian Peninsula. Also, Arab Gulf monarchies often hire public relations firms in the West to conceal human rights violations including forced disappearances and arbitrary killings, institutionalized tribalism and continuation of Badwi outdated outcast system by other means.
The Gulf region, being the source of energy supply and special importance to the industrial world, the UK, and the U.S., therefore, decided to work with the puppet monarchies on their own shallow terms regardless of their human rights record to keep the region static, avoiding oil supply disruptions which would have disastrous effect on the developed world. To major powers, democracy in this region seems unpredictable and irrelevant as long as the oil pumps to their markets.
The major powers consider this region extremely vital to their countries’ lifeline and decided to be kept as it is but, surely, the status quo can’t be sustained in the long run. However; the Arab Spring was probably a wake-up call to oppressors and their backers alike to make some sort of reform to accommodate more dissident voices calling participatory democracy and inclusive political participation for all, leaving no room for Islamist fanatics disguised as genuine opposition forces before the situation spirals out of control.
A stitch in time because the stakes are high, we can’t longer ignore the demands of millions of masses taken to streets, democratic changes at this time after a half-century of military junta of Syria, totalitarian monarchy of Saudi Arabia, and one-man rule of the Sudan along with their Kangaroo courts are inevitable before the peaceful protesters lose momentum. Syrians are already in state of fatigue and divided on ideological, religious lines.
In today’s world, a slave is defined as someone who can’t express his opinion openly, the old definition of capturing someone and selling him or her as a slave is obsolete. On the other hand, the Gulf oil region is less populated, wealthier, and easier to lubricate than the populous North Africa, however; there is neither an evident correlation nor a scientific basis for being wealthy and undemanding to your basic rights such as the right to vote. The Gulf region produced more violent infamous extremists than any other oppressed part in the world. Why do citizens who are so wealthy commit such heinous crimes? It requires more in-depth analysis.
Since Arab Spring, including its pop Arab music rap, little effect is seen in Bahrain alone—the only country in the Gulf which has common denominator with North Africa: no oil (and thus the king can not extend his muscle to pledge to lubricate his growing masses for free like his big Arab oil-y oppressors.)
The Same Oil Rich Monarchies Israel Fights
Sending Bahraini woman with Jewish backgrounds to Washington as official ambassadors this time is truly a unique positive development and encouraging sign worthy of celebration in a region where Jews are said to have originated from and have the God-given right to inhabit and yet remains anathema for prejudice and stereotyping despite shared roots of Semitic Tribe and Abraham Faith and more!
Unlike the State of Israel which has been nominating Arab national footballers, MPs, and ministers ever since its foundation in 1945. But the irony is that Manama is persecuting its majority citizens, the Shiite Muslims, and on the other hand, trying so hard to portray ethnic and faith tolerance to the free world to attract direct investment to its shrinking economy when oil is depleted.
Israel and Turkey, the only democratic countries in the Middle East, can be role models and play a key role in democratization of the region in helping monarchs to become ceremonial royalties like Norway or the Netherlands, whereby turning the region into circle of opportunity and hope instead of stagnation and desperate deprivation for freedom.
All of sudden, Bahrain has run out of oil and thus begun to experience the austerity; so the West left Bahrainis to their own devices! And the oil-y tyrant became dry and unable to give what he used to give to his subjugated society to buy their loyalty. Riots or protests began according to one’s perspective. Contrary to story that democracy is a set of empty laws designed to be the vehicle of military intervention to countries where good governance has brought some remarkable standard of living; it is stabilizing force and check and balance system and essential for sustainable development for all countries.
In the days ahead, democracy, which has been an alien in the Arab World and continues to be so to this day, and the wind of the Arab Spring may bring some delicious fruits to the one of the most repressed people on earth. So far, The Gulf region excluding Bahrain remained unfelt of The Arab Spring: no Occupy-Jeddah Movement or Bahraini-style demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, some Saudis are said to be demonstrating to demand reform on monarchy but the press is muted! Whether for being oil-based welfare states or external intervention plays its part in discouraging democracy and freedom of expression in that part of the world remains to be seen once oil begins to shrink.