By Pradyut Hande:
The recent events that unfolded in Egypt, eventually culminating in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak as President, have received mixed reactions from the international community at large. While many have staunchly come out in the open to express solidarity with the unstinting efforts of the irate protestors; backing their collective clamor for liberation from the iron-fisted clutches of the autocratic Mubarak regime and for a democratic form of governance; a few have chosen to adopt a calibrated “wait & watch” approach. The twin uprisings and subsequent removals of two heads of state in Tunisia and now Egypt; ending decades of brutal oppression and apathy; have made the leaders of the Arab world sit up agog and look at matters from a more discerning lens… one that portends a future that does not bode well for them. The revolutionary events in the past few weeks has the potential to spark a ripple effect in the Arab world… a possibility that would certainly have the ageing autocrats and monarchs scratching their beards in distress.
For long now, have the scourges of modern society – widespread unemployment, poor standards of living, unbridled corruption, unaccountable governance and inefficient judiciary systems plagued the Arab world. These burning issues are common to most of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies. Suffice to say; on the face of it; the powers that be have done precious little to address the common man’s concerns. In addition; attenuated civil rights, rampant censorship and a general attitude of repression has only augmented the ill feeling many harbor towards the government at large. While the sheikhs and emirs had gone out on a limb to back the tyrannous Tunisian and Egyptian regimes before their collapse, the mood on the street is ideologically opposite. Across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait; many have expressed their support to the Egyptian cause and look upon their respective leaders’ stance with utter disdain. The fact is that there is presently an escalating sense of discontent and indignation amongst the people of the Arab world and is in the best interests of their leaders to realize and accept this harsh reality instead of busying themselves purchasing luxury sedans and palatial properties across the globe.
Delving deeper into the aforementioned, the aggrieved denizens of Saudi Arabia aspire for change…for a better future; however, over time realization has dawned upon them. Their aspiration will remain a mere pipedream in the absence of a worthy opposition party to challenge the incumbent government/monarchy. The machinations of the government are such that they act with impressive alacrity utilizing a mixture of oppression, wily state propaganda and other repressionary tactics to disallow the formation of any noteworthy opposition faction; much to the chagrin of the common Saudi. State backed clerics have publicly denunciated the Tunisian and Egyptian upheavals in acerbic tones and furthermore, have promised to issue fatwas against anyone who attempts something of that nature in Saudi Arabia.
Set in this intimidating background; ensconced in the web of perennial fear, censure and subjugation; the people do not favor a revolutionary approach but instead are hopeful of improvements and reforms in the present state of affairs — a pipedream? Perhaps! But the audacity of hope is their only succor.
In the case of the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait; the plausibility of their distending into widespread civil strife as an indirect “ripple consequence” of the twin Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings appear remote owing to their sizable foreign working populations. However, one can be sure that any voice of discontent or protest will be swiftly muffled. The current position of Bahrain is worth attention at this juncture of time. Their Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa has been in power for over 35 years. Poverty, unemployment and corruption run rampant; thwarting even-ended socio-economic progression. Moreover, Bahrain’s primary worry stems from the fact that their oil and petroleum reserves are depleting at an alarming rate.
All these factors coupled with the government’s inability to suitably counter and find a way out of the morass they find themselves in, are responsible for breeding a growing sense of distrust and frustration in its people.
All it takes is a spark to a light a house on fire. Tunisia and Egypt are testament to that. The ripple effect of these uprisings is certainly being felt across the Arab macrocosm and even North Africa. Only time will tell whether these ripples remain just that or metamorphose into a socio-political tsunami capable of capsizing these cash-rich monarchs off their “power yachts” into the depths of the sea of oblivion.