Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Arab Despots cannot turn the Clock Back

By Saeed Qureshi

Saudi Arabia has joined the Royal family of Bahrain to crush the unrelenting mass protests being mounted for a civil society, fundamental rights, popular government and against the absolutism of the royal Khalifah family. The Saudi military army and massive military hardware is not for fighting an alien enemy or invader but essentially to suppress the internal uprising and revolt against the monarchical despotism imposed for decades on Saudi Arabia. A blessed land where the prophet of Islam was born spent his entire life in spearheading the divine mission and where caliphs were elected by popular consent is now lorded over by ruthless, wealth-greedy, cronies and lecherous families. What a remorseful downslide from the blessed ages to the time of hereditary cabals.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a government fiat that is crafted and enforced for the sake of royal, elite, and aristocratic families and tribal chiefs. The cardinal Islamic code of equality and social justice for all citizens in an Islamic state is considered to be an unpardonable crime severely punished in those holy lands.

Bahrain is a virtual protectorate of Saudi Arabia. She is literally following in her footsteps in suppressing the people. The paramount yet patently self-serving interests of both these family fiefdoms are to advance and keep in place the abominable dictatorship of the royal families. People only eat, work and sleep besides a few more chores. But beyond that to ask for elections, empowerment of the people, or a free society or pluralist form of government is such anathemas for the ruling classes as to be countered with hair-raising reprisals. While the world beyond their frontiers is coming closer as a fraternal and closely knit village, these regimes remain islands of isolation and primitivism shorn of enlightenment, civil liberties and modernity.

Bahrain’s area is about 300 sq miles and consists of 33 islands. Demographically, its population of 1.2 million is divided 30 to 70 per cent between the Sunnis and Shias respectively. Although Bahrain is said to be a constitutional democracy, yet in practice it is not. Most of the cabinet portfolios are with the royal family including those of the king, the prime minister and the crown prince. It has a bicameral legislature, yet the upper house is entirely appointed by the king, giving it a kind of veto power over the lower house elected through popular suffrage.

In Bahrain citizens have some civil rights and there is also a semblance of oppenness. But on the whole, it is basically a kingdom or monarchy run and controlled by a royal family. There is marked and yawning discrimination for social justice and rights between Sunnis and Shias. Shias being in majority with 70 per cent of the population are treated as downtrodden and less privileged.

The protests that started from February 14 are robustly continuing without any let up and respite, despite several casualties and iron hand intimidation by the government. These uprisings are diametrically different from the prolonged protests that raged in Bahrain between 1994 and 2000 and that culminated with the formulation of the National Action Charter.

The current protests in Bahrain are a proliferation and accentuation of what is happening elsewhere in the Middle East, by which people are endeavoring to get rid of the medieval forms of government. People want fundamental human rights, the pluralist democratic dispensations that should be elected by the people, for the people and not for the coterie of individuals or group of families ruling like ancient pharaohs. The political systems in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are replicas and prototypes of each other.

It is precisely for this reason that Saudi royal family and the United Arab Emirates have sent their troops, armed cars, sharp shooters, guns and military equipment to Bahrain to suppress the popular discontent so that it does not spill over to Saudi Arabia.

But for all indications, this time the suppression is not going to produce results in favor of the ruling families. This time the virulent protests are being staged nonstop by all sections of society, leftists, liberals and Islamists, the Shias and the Sunnis. The protest are being staged with one single purpose of ending the suffocating and clannish undemocratic political order and replace it with a truly representative and accountable government, born out of the peoples consent, will and mandate. The fundamental change is that people have shed off the fear they had for these monstrous rulers.

The democratic governments around the world that forced Hosni Mubarak to abdicate power are not showing the same fervor in support of the protesting people of Bahrain for the motives that are self evident to all. One such reason is that the United States maintains its 6th fleet in Bahrain. There are prodigious military and economic interests of other European countries in Bahrain.

If these protests are allowed to fructify, it would be treated as a victory for Iran because any government that comes into being on the basis of popular vote would be those of Shias and would be ostensibly allied and aligned with Iran. It is unthinkable for the West and especially United States to allow a smooth sailing and burgeoning influence of Iran in Bahrain. That would not only raise the clout of Iran in the so called Arab land, it would also predictably pose a gubernatorial threat to its traditional enemy Saudi Arabia.

Besides, it would also pose a grave challenge to the military establishment of the countries now arrayed against Iran. As such crushing the revolt of the people in Bahrain is to forestall the advent of Iranian influence in Bahrain that is geographically so close to Iran and is located on the west of the Persian Gulf. The induction of Saudi and UAE troops in Bahrain is a violation of international laws and can provoke similar reprisal action from Iran. The incursion of Saudi and UAE troops into Bahrain violate the territorial sanctity and sovereignty of Bahrain professing to be an independent state.

It would therefore, be quite interesting and a matter of great curiosity to see, as to how the revolting people of Bahrain react to this latest unforeseen development. It should also be watched as to what could be the reaction of Iran for protecting the lives and interests of its co- faithful Shia community in Bahrain.

Incidentally the protests are also sporadically mushrooming in Saudi Arabia and the people for the first time are dauntlessly braving the state repression and cruel countermeasures unleashed to quash these protests. As stated earlier, Saudi Arabia presents the model of a medieval tribal sort of regime where dissent or asking for civil rights and parliamentary form of government is an exceptionally serious crime. To raise fingers on the extravagant and even un-Islamic life style of the royal families and chieftains is also strictly forbidden.

But despite such abominations, the western governments lend support to these unpopular regimes to stay and serve their vested interest one of which is the unhindered availability of oil to them. There is brazen duplicity and rank hypocrisy of the western democracies to selectively apply their human rights and democratic yardsticks depending upon the cronyism of these client states or otherwise.

But the clock of time cannot be rewound backward now. The spirit of time and the thrust of the present age resoundingly call for all the bonded and enslaved nations to be liberated from their past baggage of slavery and subservience imposed by the local lords or foreign imperialists. These autocratic outfits being resuscitated by foreign mavericks and distant god-fathers are destined to dissipate and be replaced with the modern states and new dispensations havng respect for their people and coming into being with their franchise.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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