By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
UK Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow has put his finger on a paradox that highlights the confusion, contradictions and hypocrisy blighting the British political establishment.
Writing in his blog on 1 February, he asks an interesting question: “Is there a British military boot ‘in action’ anywhere in the world whose enemy is not backed by Saudi interests?” He notes in particular that “British military boots are somewhere ‘in action’ in Mali, Afghanistan and Pakistan” and that, in a covert or advisory capacity, “they are in and out of Somalia, Kenya, Yemen and elsewhere”.
The British are putting their soldiers in harm’s way and exposing their population to terrorist attacks fighting an enemy that is backed mainly by their – and the USA’s – key collaborator in the Arab region, Saudi Arabia.
This paradoxical relationship is so precious to the British elite that it is prepared to sanction corruption in the UK itself in order to protect the Saudi royal family from embarrassment, as was clear back in 2006 when the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, intervened to stop the Serious Fraud Office investigating allegations that BAE, Britain’s biggest arms company, had paid massive bribes to Saudi princes to win lucrative contracts.
Promoting agents of backwardness
The problem for us Arabs is that the activities of the Saudis and their Gulf allies are corroding and corrupting our societies in a manner that may take generations to eradicate.
However, what concerns us most is the role played by Saudi Arabia in spreading backwardness in the countries where there are Muslims. As Mr Snow says: “From Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east, to Syria in the Middle East, and Libya and Mali in the west, many of the jihadists, rebels, insurgents and terrorists allegedly draw financial support from either Saudi or allied Gulf money.
For many years, the Saudis were content to fund – or turn a blind eye to the funding of – these primitive Islamists, provided they poured their poison outside Saudi Arabia itself. According to Mr Snow,
Early in the growth of Al-Qaeda, and Bin Laden’s rise to influence, an informal understanding was reached that the movement would be tolerated providing it operated beyond Saudi borders. After 9/11 the levying of taxes in Saudi market places, which found their way to Al-Qaeda, was banned.
Actually, it was not so much 9/11, which was carried out mostly by Saudi nationals and caused embarrassment in the US-Saudi relationship, but when the “shit hit the fan” and bounced back on the Saudis’ own faces, in the form of Al-Qaeda operations inside Saudi Arabia itself, that prompted the House of Saud to frown upon the funding of Al-Qaeda.
But that did not stop the Saudis from sponsoring other agents of backwardness in the Arab world, notably the cult of Hassan al-Banna – also known as the Muslim Brotherhood – and the super-primitive Salafi movements in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the region. In fact, it is reasonable to doubt that the Saudi state, which is built on the particularly backward Wahhabi brand of Salafi Islam, is even capable of halting its destructive behaviour in countries where there are Muslims. As Mr Snow points out, the Saudi Wahhabi brand of conservative Islam ”imposes an obligation upon the faithful to propagate the faith across the world”.
Corrupting society – cancer-like
It is an “obligation” that goes beyond, and is much more sinister and cancerous than, funding Islamist cults such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Libya and Syria, and criminal Islamist gangsters such as Ansar al-Shari’ah in Libya and Al-Nusra Front in Syria. In fact, it seeks to distort and corrupt societal attitudes by implanting the alien ideology of Wahhabism at the grassroots level and thereby promote backwardness, cancer-like, throughout society. Thus,
The Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs has coordinated the multi-billion-pound spending on some 15 hundred sizeable Wahhabi-oriented mosques and madrasas [religious schools] worldwide over the past two decades.
In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya, Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas are being built at a furious rate, funded by Saudi money. In Kabul, the Saudis have begun building the giant 100-million-dollar new mosque and Islamic education centre. This mirrors the vast Faisal mosque which they built in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, in 1988.
The pivotal role played by Saudi Arabia and Saudis in sustaining and promoting primitive and violent Islamism – some argue that it is not even Islam – is something Western governments are prepared to live with because the Saudis supply oil and buy lots of weapons from the West, thereby keeping the arms industry in business.
…in the latest financial year for which figures are available, it is estimated that the Saudis were the world’s seventh largest military spender. According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, they spent some 48 billion dollars. BAe Systems is currently trying to negotiate a GBP 7-billion deal to sell Eurofighter/Typhoon jet to the Saudis.
Contracts with the Saudis secure thousands of jobs in Britain. Without the trade, unemployment in the UK would be still higher.
Time to speak out
In his blogpost, Mr Snow asks: “As Western powers grapple with the consequences of the war in Mali, and the killing of 34 Westerners in the Algerian desert at the BP complex, with what energy is the intelligence community tracking the sources of the funding to the jihadist forces involved?”
…the problem is no longer confined to the unholy alliance of Washington London and Riyadh. It is now hurting us all, from Damascus (by which we mean the Syrian revolution, not the Assad tyranny), to Cairo, Benghazi, Tripoli and Tunis.
That is a problem for Western governments and, ultimately, they will reap what they sow. The problem for us Arabs is that the activities of the Saudis and their Gulf allies are corroding and corrupting our societies in a manner that may take generations to eradicate.
This is most noticeable in the Arab Spring countries where primitive Islamists, from the cult of Hassan al-Banna to the criminal jihadists, have hijacked the people’s revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria and are dragging our societies back to Ottoman times.
British and US support for, and collusion with, the House of Saud have been key in helping to sustain the Wahhabi royal family and religious establishment and shield it from all sorts of social and political pressures.
But the problem is no longer confined to the unholy alliance of Washington, London and Riyadh. It is now hurting us all, from Damascus (by which we mean the Syrian revolution, not the Assad tyranny), to Cairo, Benghazi, Tripoli and Tunis.
It is time for the Arab people – Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians, Syrians, Yemenis and Bahrainis, among others – to speak out loud and clear against the Islamists, as they did in Libya’s second city of Benghazi, when thousands thronged the streets to say no to the Saudi- and Qatari-sponsored jihadist gangsters. It is time to kick out, once and for all and through mass people’s power, the backward ideology and values of the Saudis and their Gulf allies. It is time to tell the Hassan al-Banna cultists of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis and other Salafis to go to hell or, better still, to pack up and go and live in the Saudi desert.
By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
Hardly a day passes without someone asking me whether the Arab Spring had been worth it.
Libya is in chaos with no effective government, police or army, and with armed militias acting as the Italian mafia once did in American cities. Egypt and Tunisia have swapped pro-Western lackeys for reactionary Islamists. In Syria even more backward-looking Islamists, in the shape of Salafis-cum-“jihadists”, are exploiting disunity within the armed opposition to infiltrate the country, and that is not to mention the daily death toll of innocents and the destruction wreaked on homes, businesses, public buildings and infrastructure, mostly by Bashar Assad’s forces. Meanwhile, despite the pain and sacrifices of ordinary people, the revolutions in Bahrain and Yemen have been stopped in their tracks thanks to Saudi Arabia, its Gulf satellite states and their Western backers.
Just as frequent as the “Was it worth it?” question is the refrain from some in Tunisia, Egypt and, to a lesser extent Libya, that at least under the defunct dictatorships citizens could go about their business in relative peace and security, as long as they did not get involved in politics or criticize their regimes.
The case of the Tunisian woman who was allegedly raped by police and then arrested for indecency is the most recent incident to highlight the chaos into which Arab Spring countries have plunged, in addition to becoming a rallying cry for critics of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, for which women’s rights are not exactly a top priority.
The picture all around, then, is depressing. But is it surprising?
The eruption of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria had generated high expectations and sparked off popular and media euphoria the like of which had not been seen since the days of the late Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser before the 1967 war or, in the case of Libya, the first year or so after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1969.
Writing in Foreign Policy in April 2011, just a few months after the unimaginable happened and people’s power toppled the sclerotic dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, Indian-American author Parag Khanna marvelled at the borderless youth revolution sweeping across the Arab world. He looked forward to the emergence of “a new Arabism”, one that derives its strength “from genuinely trans-Arab phenomena” such as the younger generation’s demand for more accountable governance. In this new Arab world, even the elusive prospect of Arab unity seemed within reach:
The next great step towards a new Arab renaissance will come through physically overcoming the region’s arbitrary political borders, most of which derive from European colonial callousness. As the European Union itself demonstrates, the only way to achieve genuine collective security and a political-economic order greater than the sum of its parts is to physically build it.
A new pan-Arab rail network could connect Tripoli to Cairo to Amman to Baghdad, and Damascus to Dubai… More pipelines and canals could connect oil-rich and low-population states with poor, heavily populated ones. Where borders are straight and arbitrary, these fluid and deliberately curvy lines – railways, pipelines, and water channels – will be the necessary and natural consequence of the opening of Arab societies to the logic of globalization.
For a few weeks, between the downfall of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes and the initial, rapid advance of the revolutionaries in Libya, I too shared Mr Khanna’s optimism, as did no doubt millions of people across the Arab world – with good reason. Egypt’s Islamists were distancing themselves from the anti-Mubarak revolution and did not seem destined to play a big part in post-Mubarak Egypt. In Libya, the uprising was being led by educated, liberal youths, and the people of the liberated parts of the country were displaying an unprecedented degree of solidarity and organization. Wherever one looked, everything pointed to a promising, progressive pan-Arab future defined by common interests and shared ideas and values – democracy, accountability, civil society and the rule of law. Even Syria, where the regime had a track record of mass murder in Hama (1982) and Tal Zaatar (1976), appeared within reach.
But, alas, it was not to be – and it will not be for many years. Instead, disappointed expectations have led to depression, which has become the watchword encapsulating the mood of progressives in every Arab country that had sprung into life and hope with the first cinders of revolution in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid back in December 2010.
There are terrible debts to be paid for the way power was organized in the Arab world over the last 60 years; they will be paid in blood. Let’s get on with paying them… (Issandr El Amrani, journalist and commentator)
The reasons for the disappointed expectations differ from country to country but what they have in common is the fact that the collapse of the dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – the three countries where the Arab Spring has succeeded in unseating the ruling tyrannies – had exposed hitherto hidden and unfortunate realities and unleashed dormant forces that had been kept in check for decades through policies of repression unparalleled anywhere in the world outside North Korea.
Egypt and Tunisia
In both Egypt and Tunisia, those dormant forces come under the banner of Islamism, from the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda to the different shades of Salafism – all of them backward, reactionary and irrational. Long repressed under the fallen dictators who imprisoned, tortured and gagged them, the Islamists had been prevented from airing their views in public, and the public had been deprived of the opportunity of scrutinizing and challenging their ideologies and politics.
Consequently, a whole mythology was built around them, one in which they are portrayed in the public’s imagination as brave heroes willing to stand up and die for their principles. Their meaningless slogans, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s “Islam is the Solution”, were passed off unchallenged and became rallying calls to mobilize the masses. The fact that “Islam is the Solution” is, in effect, nothing more than advocating magic in lieu of public policy went unchallenged because it was never allowed to be debated openly in public.
Likewise with Tunisia’s Islamists who under Ben Ali were never given the opportunity to explain how their only “policy”, adopting Islamic law, or shari’ah, would solve the country’s innumerable economic and social problems and enhance the people’s wellbeing.
The rest is now history. Following the fall of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes, the Islamist Ennahda movement in Tunisia came out as the strongest party in the Constituent Assembly elections, and in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-reactionary Salafi parties, Nur and Daawa Islamiya, swept the scene in parliamentary elections, and an Islamist president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi, won the presidential ballot.
Libya, on the other hand, is a different story. In contrast to Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Tunisia, Islamist parties had never put down roots in Libyan society either before or clandestinely during the Gaddafi era. The Muslim Brotherhood is, and always has been, very small and is seen by many people as a holier-than-thou cult rather than a credible political movement. The other Islamist organizations, such as Abdelhakim Belhaj’s Watan party, Muhammad Ali Sallabi’s National Gathering for Freedom, Justice and Development, and the armed thugs of Ansar Shari’ah, are alien forces rooted more in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where their leaders had spent time in exile, than in Libya. Thus, in their first free election for over 45 years, Libyans bucked the post-Arab Spring trend and gave their vote to relatively liberal coalitions.
Rather than Islamism, Libya’s problems are far more basic. Compared to Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is politically barren. It was neglected under the Ottomans and the Italian colonialists, who banned education for Libyans aged more than 10 years. During the monarchy that came after independence in 1951, political parties were permitted and an elected parliament existed, but with a largely illiterate population and no political culture, these acted more as vehicles for patronage and other forms of corruption than as bodies that reflected the popular will. Then came the military coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969, and on that date the country’s political, intellectual and cultural life was placed in a deep freeze that was to last for the 42 years of the Gaddafi family’s reign. That is, four decades of complete intolerance of any political ideas that did not emanate from Gaddafi, no freedom of speech or expression, no freedom to organize (e.g. a political party or trade union – or even a debating society), and no institutions other than the armed thugs and snitches of the “Revolutionary” Committees and the pillars of Gaddafi’s system of institutionalized chaos, the People’s Committees. In other words, no civil society whatsoever.
That is where Libya has been since liberation in October 2011. Society is thawing out but, having been frozen in backwardness for decades, it will take many years before Libyans experience a real spring. In the meantime, Libyans will have to get accustomed to using their critical faculties. They will have to learn the art of persuasion, as opposed to violence and emotion, and each Libyan will have to accept that his or her opinion is not the only opinion worth listening to and that nobody, whether Islamist or liberal, holds a monopoly over the truth. Above all, Libyans will have to start thinking and behaving as responsible members of a wider society, and this will be the hardest task of all because society and community are precisely what Gaddafi had done most to destroy.
So, that is where we are now as far as the countries that have succeeded in toppling their dictators are concerned. The others – Syria, Bahrain and Yemen – are unfinished business, as it were, and others still – Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the Gulf states, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco – will sure follow suit sooner or later. But it would be a delusion to expect any of them, once they finally manage to kick out their unwelcome rulers, to assume a different trajectory than that taken by Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Indeed, for some, much worse will happen before life begins to get better.
Was it all worth it?
This brings us to the question we started off with: has the Arab Spring been worth it for those who have managed to overthrow their dictators and are now in the throes of chaos and violence, or are living in the shadow of ultra-reactionary Islamists? Is it worth it for the Syrians who are paying with their lives in droves to free their country from the grip of the sectarian Assad regime?
There is another way of asking this question: how much is freedom – your freedom, my freedom, our freedom – worth? If freedom can be given up in return for food on the table and conditional physical protection, then why do prisoners yearn for their release? Why give up guaranteed prison food and the protection of prison officers for the uncertainties of life in freedom, where one could never be sure whether there will be a next meal or a bed to sleep on?
Needless to say – but it needs saying, especially for the Westerners who have never experienced tyranny and take their freedoms and rights for granted – freedom is priceless. There is no alternative to the struggles taking place in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, and those that are sure to take place in the rest of the Arab world sooner or later.
But our pain, blood and suffering are unlikely to bear fruit in our lifetime. As Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, says in reference to Syria (but it applies to all Arabs): “People were mistaken if they thought it would be like Europe, a whole system collapsing and its people joining the West. The Arabs don’t want to join the West. What they’ve embarked on is a generation of change.”
To quote Egyptian journalist and commentator Issandr El Amrani, what is happening in the Arab world is history in motion. “There are terrible debts to be paid for the way power was organized in the Arab world over the last 60 years; they will be paid in blood. Let’s get on with paying them…”
Lawrence Davidson views the roots of the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, and argues that the double standards embodied in the US response to the Bahraini regime’s violent suppression of the peaceful protests can be directly linked not only to the desire to control the Gulf’s oil supplies, but also to the fact that the Bahraini ruler is a self-proclaimed ally of Israel.
Welcome to Bahrain
If you want to see how an ostensive religious regime can be corrupted into something close to fascism, just take a look at contemporary Bahrain.
In February 2011 there were a series of non-violent demonstrations staged mostly by the small kingdom’s Shi’i majority (approximately 70 per cent of the country’s Muslim citizens). These were held to protest against the discriminatory practices of the country’s Sunni monarchy.
The protests were soon violently suppressed by the Bahraini army and police, with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
However, it was what followed the crushing of the demonstrations that smacks of fascism. Here is how a report, dated 6 May 2011, by Roy Gutman of the McClatchy Newspapers, puts it:
Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shi’is, fired 1,000 Shi’I professionals and canceled their pensions, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper. Nothing, however, has struck harder at the fabric of this nation, where Shi’is outnumber Sunnis nearly 4 to1, than the destruction of Shi’i worship centres.
As an important aside that can only shake your faith in the effectiveness of international law, it is to be noted that this repression is being carried out by a regime that, as Stephen Lendman tells us,
is a signatory to nearly every major international humanitarian and human rights law, including: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, among others.
Signing such instruments is an easy act of hypocrisy for most dictatorships and, as we will see, the one in Bahrain treats them as a form of convenient deception.
Sunnis and Shi’is
Today, Shi’is make up approximately 20 per cent of the world’s Muslim population and are particularly concentrated in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.
The tension between Sunnis and Shi’is has its roots in a disagreement over the proper order of succession following the death of the prophet Mohammad. As a consequence the Sunni majority has always seen Shi’is as not quite orthodox, and so has often treated them in a discriminatory fashion.
This led to over a 1,000 years of periodic struggle and competition, sometimes violent, between the two sects. Though none of this has been as horrid or prolonged as the wars of religion experienced by the Christian West, the potential for comparable blood letting is there.
I think there is little doubt that the prophet Mohammad would strongly disapprove of this aspect of Muslim history. In his last sermon to his followers, delivered during his final pilgrimage to Mecca in 632 CE, he said, “Oh ye men, listen to my words and take them to heart: every Muslim is a brother to every other Muslim and you are now one brotherhood.” Over the years this message has been disregarded all too often.
The Bahraini regime, which happens to be Sunni, has certainly forgotten this important message and treated their majority Shi’i citizenry as anything but brothers. And, just as in every other case of prolonged discrimination, the result has been growing resentment.
…the truth is that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah (the present ruler), his family and rest of the kingdom’s ruling clique – pursue bigoted policies…
The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt served as incentives for Bahrain’s Shi’is to once more express their discontent in a non-violent way. That the regime blames this all on Shi’i Iran is just an excuse. It is the Bahraini monarchy’s prejudicial policies that have brought about this situation – the truth is that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah (the present ruler), his family and rest of the kingdom’s ruling clique – pursue bigoted policies and then call that government.
So when it comes to Bahrain, you can forget about the fact that this is supposed to be a Muslim government. Islam has nothing to do with its rulers’ policies.
What you have is a minority regime which refuses to reform its indecent and inhumane ways. It is going to hold on to power by brute force and by doing so join the ranks of other regimes such as Pinochet’s Chile, the military dictatorship that once massacred its own people in Argentina, the death squad regimes of Central America, ad nauseam.
The next time King Hamad appears on the balcony of his palace to address his supporters, the man standing next to him will no doubt be the regime’s “Lord High Executioner”. The probable candidate for this position is Hamad’s uncle, Salman Al Khalifah, who is 75 years old and has been the country’s prime minister for 40 years. As the Gutman piece tells us, that is “a current world record”. This is not a Muslim Bahrain. This is a Fascist Bahrain.
And what of the United States?
What is the American connection to all of this?
The US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, is headquartered at in a small 100-acre naval base at Bahrain (the base is presently being enlarged). The US has also designated Bahrain a “major non-NATO ally” and has a “defence pact” with that country. Thus the United States is concerned about the fate of Bahrain.
It is reported that, at the time of the Egyptian protests, President Barack Obama told both the Bahraini and the Saudi regimes that they should carry out major political reforms so as to prevent similar unrest in their own countries.Both were aghast at this advice and furious that the Obama administration abandoned the Mubarak dictatorship. Obama has since been publicly silent on the issue of Bahrain.
This is what happens when you climb into bed with dictators. If you are not willing to walk away from them, you must turn a blind eye to their behaviour. Historically, this has not been a problem for most American administrations. Abandoning Egypt’s Mubarak seems to be an exception to the rule.
Ever since the Egyptian protests ousted Mubarak, Washington’s rhetoric has been confusing.
President Obama has often attempted to lay down what sounds like basic principles – ones reflecting “who we [Americans] are as a nation”. That is the kind of language he invoked to justify intervention in Libya. We were going to “protect civilians” because that is who we are and that is what people like us do.
Well, if this is a basic principle, if we allegedly act in this humane way as a function of who we are, should we not be consistent in our behaviour? What about the unfortunate Bahraini Shi’is who are being trampled in a fascist manner by a dictatorship every bit as bad, if not worse, than the one in Libya? I could easily throw in a number of other friendly regimes which have equal fascist potential such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Syria and Iran don’t quite fit here because they are presently not our friends.
Alas, this is about more than oil. The dictators we now back are accepting of Israel and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the Palestinian people. The democracies that might replace them are not likely to feel the same way.
Obama, with his principled rhetoric, has run into the inevitable problem of double standards. It is the kind of problem that makes you want to be an isolationist.
However, there is supposedly too much at stake to just walk away from a place like Bahrain.
For one thing there is the issue of keeping Middle East oil in “friendly” hands. And just how big an issue is that? There is an old saying that has gone around Washington for decades and it is framed in the form of the question: “what are the Arab leaders who sit on a lot of oil going to do with it? Drink it?”
In other words, oil is a commercial product. It does not matter if the Saudis or the Bahrainis or the Iraqis or the Iranians, etc. agree with you or not. Whoever ends up in charge is going to sell their oil. So why support dictatorial regimes? Why not back the protesters? We are all for democracy, or so we claim.
Alas, this is about more than oil. The dictators we now back are accepting of Israel and turn blind eyes to the destruction of the Palestinian people. The democracies that might replace them are not likely to feel the same way. We already have intonations of this in post Mubarak Egypt.
This situation has actually made undeclared allies of Israel and bloody regimes such as that in Bahrain, where King Hamad has admitted cooperating with Israel.
Israel, in turn, has one of the strongest lobbies in Washington and, most of the time, shapes America’s Middle East foreign policy, particularly in Congress.
Then there is our shared, if exaggerated, fear of Shi’i Iran. Israel and its allied lobbies drive this fear forward in the US and our dictator friends, like the Saudis and the Bahrainis, are also obsessed by it. Remember, the protestors in Bahrain are overwhelmingly Shi’i. If they were successful, Bahrain would most likely be a place friendly toward Iran. That would never do.
The year 2011 is not the first time Bahrain’s Shi’is have protested their plight. There were protests throughout the 1990s which ended with the proclamation of the National Action Charter, promising equality of opportunity for all. This statement of theory has obviously not been sufficiently translated into practice. It turned out to be a convenient deception – hence the 2011 troubles.
There is no reason to believe that the suppression of the 2011 protests marks the end of Bahrain’s problems. As noted, most of the kingdom’s protests have been non-violent. However, with the fascist tactics now adopted by the regime, non-violence is probably not going to be the popular response next time around. It is simply the case that, over time, the violence of the oppressed rises to the level of the violence of the oppressor. The next time there will likely be civil war in Bahrain.
Yvonne Ridley argues that the desperate super-rich dinosaur rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world are prepared to go to any length, including fomenting sectarianism and discord, in order to maintain their grip on power.
Every time I sit down to write an article another expression of people power erupts somewhere within the Arab world, so it’s hard to know where to begin. The most exhilarating thing for me has been the unity displayed in these amazing popular movements; there’s been no room for sectarianism, sexism, ageism or any other ism. It truly has been all for one and one for all.
When I walked through Tahrir Square at the height of the Egyptian revolution and saw the spirit of brotherhood between Christians and Muslims with my own eyes, I was moved to tears. For years, the destructive regime of Hosni Mubarak had sought to keep the two faith communities apart and now there is sinister evidence from secret Ministry of Interior documents that it was Mubarak’s henchmen who planted bombs in Coptic churches to fuel the sectarianism that pitted Muslim against Christian. However, the Egyptian people broke free from such divisive tyranny and came together in a unity that transcended religions, cultures, gender and generations. This was a revolution for all, with no discrimination between people of faith and those of no faith.
They look on from their marble palaces and mansions fearing the warmth generated by the Arab spring because they know people power is the biggest threat to their very existence.
You would have thought that this would be a universal cause for celebration but it wasn’t. In some privileged circles in the Arab world the fixed smiles disguised contained rage. Revolutions of the kind we’ve seen reshape the Arab world threaten the rich, their fabulous lifestyles and their often brutal grip on power. For decades, these tyrants, despots and dictators have wallowed in obscene luxury paid for by the vast reservoirs of oil and gas beneath the sands on which they sit. Anyone posing a threat to this privilege has felt the wrath of this band of thugs: torture, abuse of human rights, false imprisonment, detention without charge and mysterious disappearances are the hallmarks of such regimes.
They look on from their marble palaces and mansions fearing the warmth generated by the Arab spring because they know people power is the biggest threat to their very existence. The king of Morocco, perhaps the most astute monarch of them all, reacted quicker than most to this human tsunami and he has, for the time being anyway, introduced reforms and changes without being asked to do so or clear off. But some of the other royals and rulers have developed a bunker mentality and refuse to end the brutality against their people. Their days are numbered but they are in denial.
Now they are using the old colonial trick of divide and rule that put their dynasties in power in the first place, when British Imperialists and their Western allies redrew the map of the Middle East to match their own interests, not those of the local population. The resultant discord in Palestine is a running sore in the region; there the split has been developed along political lines and efforts to bring about Palestinian reconciliation have been stymied by the US for the past four years. A strong united front in Palestine is the last thing that Israel and its US backers want.
The kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in particular have ripped open old wounds and rubbed in tons of salt to revive and agitate age-old bitter divisions, both real and imagined, between Sunni and Shi’i.
In the Gulf, some of the royal families who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are playing the divide and rule game with the sectarian card. These are desperate measures, among their most heinous, as they cling to power, illustrating the depths to which they will go in order to secure their untenable positions as hereditary rulers.
The kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in particular have ripped open old wounds and rubbed in tons of salt to revive and agitate age-old bitter divisions, both real and imagined, between Sunni and Shi’i. From his tribal stronghold of Riyadh, King Abdullah and his advisors have used the threat of sectarianism as the excuse to send his troops to Bahrain, claiming that the move was essential to prevent the very unrest that they are, in fact, fomenting.
Scholars for dollars, and other clerics who are not secure in their positions, have added fuel to the fire by accusing the majority Shi’i population in Bahrain of causing mischief and unrest; the Arabic word for this is fitna, or discord, and sums up the net effect of the scholars’ pronouncements.
The unrest seen in Bahrain and the violent official response has not been caused because of a split between Sunni and Shi’i, any more than the “Irish Troubles” erupted because of the religious differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Unrest in Ireland stemmed from the oppression and human rights abuses by one dominant group over another, as it does in Bahrain. Just as the Catholics in Northern Ireland were governed by rulers well-versed in discrimination, the Shi’i majority in Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni regime bolstered by hired guns from Pakistan and other Sunni Muslim-majority countries. There are very few Shi’is represented in the army and police, and unemployment is disproportionately high in the Shi’i community which is also plagued by poor housing and living conditions. It’s the age-old story of the privileged shovelling ever more hardship onto the poor, working classes.
The Saudi King is 86 and his health is ailing; he has far more important issues to worry about in his own backyard, but has opted to focus on Bahrain and turn the crisis into a sectarian issue. The intervention of Saudi and other GCC troops a few days ago sent shock waves around the Muslim world. The only seal of approval came from the repressive regimes that are still clinging with white knuckles to the notion that their people will not rise up and tear them off their 24-carat thrones.
Just as the Catholics in Northern Ireland were governed by rulers well-versed in discrimination, the Shi’i majority in Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni regime bolstered by hired guns from Pakistan and other Sunni Muslim-majority countries.
Demonstrations around the world against the GCC intervention have reserved most of their venom for the Saudi regime. In London, for example, Park Lane and Mayfair were brought to a halt as 4,000 demonstrators marched to the Saudi embassy from its Bahrain counterpart. These were not exclusively Shi’i-led demonstrations, even though it is well known that the two million Shi’is living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where most of the oil reserves are concentrated, face officially-sanctioned brutality from the Riyadh authorities.
Tiny Bahrain is the tinderbox that threatens to ignite a sectarian war which could rage across the Arab world, dividing and ripping apart families and communities. Just look at what the US-led invasion of Iraq did; sectarianism was never a huge issue in Iraq until Bush’s “Shock and Awe” came along in 2003. The tragedy is that the match that could light the inferno is held by a few power-mad, filthy rich, old men who want to protect their lifestyles and dynasties. It will be a tragedy for the world if these few dinosaurs from a colonial past and representing all that was wrong with empire, are able to get away with their treachery but the signs are not good, as the representatives of the colonial present in Israel demonstrate. They are allowed to get away, quite literally, with murder as they continue their military occupation and colonization of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip. Will Saudi Arabia’s military interventionism in Bahrain be allowed to do the same? Only time will tell.
Mamoon Alabbasi views the hypocrisy and double standards displayed by Western politicians and media towards the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain.
Just before the Arab revolt erupted there was much talk about how minorities in the Middle East were being mistreated. Of course, such concerns were not unfounded, but many vocal critics never really cared for finding real solutions nor did they give much attention to the plight of minorities elsewhere around the world. In fact, they often were the very same people who encouraged abusing minorities in Europe and the US.
Minorities in the Arab world (and elsewhere) continued to suffer. However, what has really been missed out was that the majorities in most Arab countries felt they were discriminated against more than anyone else. The signs were always there but few bothered to report this until the uprisings that swept the region left no room for doubt.
In Bahrain, a persecuted majority has literally been bleeding for equality and now, after days of anti-regime protests, dare dream of democracy.
In Bahrain, a persecuted majority has literally been bleeding for equality and now, after days of anti-regime protests, dare dream of democracy.
Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets and so-called “analysts” have failed to report the protests in Bahrain as a people’s struggle for democracy and equal rights.
Instead, they sought to stress the sectarian divides of the country, even though the protestors were calling for Sunni-Shi’i unity against dictatorship. Analysts were also too preoccupied with the implications a democratic Bahrain would have on Saudi Arabia (negative) and on Iran (positive), as if it is OK to deny Bahrainis their basic human rights just because that might not sit well regionally.
The role of the US in all of this is also crucial. The Fifth Fleet, a major US Navy base, has been in Bahrain for 63 years. As seven Bahrainis were killed following the police crackdown on protestors, the US praised the monarchy for taking “positive steps” to reach out to demonstrators. During a visit to Bahrain the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, reaffirmed Washington’s support for King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ‘s “handling [of] the popular crisis” and “strong commitment” to Bahrain’s army. Mullen said his visit to the Gulf was aimed at “reaffirming, reassuring and also trying to understand where the leaderships of these countries are going, and in particular in Bahrain”.
Despite US calls for “restraint”, I do not see the people of Bahrain being reassured.
Some analysts fear that a democratic Bahrain would give Iran more influence in the region. This is ironic since many of those who claim to want total democracy for Iran do not wish that same privilege for the people of Bahrain, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere precisely because they think that would benefit Iran.
Some analysts fear that a democratic Bahrain would give Iran more influence in the region. This is ironic since many of those who claim to want total democracy for Iran do not wish that same privilege for the people of Bahrain, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere precisely because they think that would benefit Iran. But why would a free and democratic Bahrain threaten anyone’s “legitimate” interests? Freedom and equality in Bahrain serve first and foremost the people of Bahrain. The majority of the people of Bahrain are the legitimate voice of Bahrain; they cannot by definition betray Bahrain. Nor do they wish any trouble in the region.
Saudi Arabia has urged Bahraini’s opposition “to be reasonable in proposing their ideas, and accept what was offered by the government”. This is the same Saudi Arabia that said it rejects foreign intervention in Bahrain’s affairs and pledged its backing to the regime in Manama. But which of the opposition demands or slogans by protesters at Pearl Square run against the interest of the people of Saudi Arabia or any people for that matter?
None. Read some of them for yourself:
– “No Sunni, no Shi’i, we are Bahraini!”
– “We are brothers, Sunnis and Shi’s. We shall not abandon this country”
– “Did you hear anybody raising a sectarian demand, or a demand for one part of the people of Bahrain?”
– “The time has come for true unity”
– “We want a real constitutional monarchy”
– “We want an elected government”
– “We want the people to write their constitution themselves through an elected council”
– “The people should choose their government”
– “We want a parliamentary, democratic regime – a regime with a free parliament elected by the free will of the people, and this parliament will form a government”
– “People here are demanding democracy, and fair distribution of wealth, and these demands are for all the people”.