The Western media has happily applauded as one Arab state after another has lemming-like jumped over the precipice into the unknown, with vague promises of democratic utopia and unlimited prosperity.
For us in Bahrain, there were clearly many who a year ago aspired for our country to follow. As if a revolutionary wiping of the slate was the only answer to all the challenges our country faced.
It was obvious that Libya, Syria, Yemen and several other states were basket cases, ruled by regimes for whom “reform” equated with suicide and for whom transition of power could only come at the battle of a gun. However, this didn’t mean that exactly the same medicine should be prescribed for every country in the region.
Actually, numerous states have been quietly getting along very nicely, despite at times witnessing demonstrations and civil tensions. I would like to call this “the Other Arab Spring”.
If we look at some of these countries, many of the ones which have fared better, like Morocco, Oman, the UAE and Qatar are monarchies. In contrast it was the Nasserite or Ba’ithist-leaning regimes which appeared so forward-looking and full of promise in the 1960s which have fallen one after the other.
Morocco, which also witnessed significant protests early last year, is a particularly good example of managed reform. A new constitution was promulgated last July reducing the powers of King Mohamed and allowing the winning party in November’s elections to choose its own Prime Minister.
Oman was also hit by protests and significant industrial unrest, but protesters were always careful to express their loyalty to their king. The response of the Omani Authorities has been a number of initiatives to improve job prospects and working conditions, culminating in elections this October and reforms to increase the powers of the elected Shura Council. This has been in parallel with increased media freedoms and other pragmatic response to popular grievances.
Other Gulf States like Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have sought to diffuse potential tensions through packages of social, economic and political measures; while other regional states like Jordan, Algeria, Sudan and Turkey have also had to be forward-leaning in their ability to be responsive to popular aspirations.
Meanwhile, the revolutionary states of Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and perhaps Syria give little cause for confidence. Different brands of Salafists and Islamists have done unnervingly well in the post-revolutionary political chaos and investors and tourists are still staying well away.
So why is the popular view in the international media that Bahrain’s only alternative is to also take the plunge into the revolutionary unknown, when clearly the countries which have fared best in the region are those which have succeeded in managing a process of reform?
Part of the problem is that many NGOs and newspapers have wholly bought in to the opposition’s propaganda; that they are peaceful, that they are democratic and that they have Bahrain’s best interests at heart. For most Bahrainis; we wouldn’t trust opposition leaders like Issa Qasim, Hasam Mushaima and Ali Salman with driving a Tehran taxi cab. These figures are pro-Iran Islamists, they are extremists and the one thing they are not is democrats.
Our request here is that the world take a less simplistic approach to the Arabian Gulf region and Bahrain in particular. Revolution is no more likely to bring about peace, stability and democracy in Bahrain in 2012, than it did in France in 1789.
Reform is working very well in Morocco, Oman and elsewhere. This “Other Arab Spring” is bearing very visible fruits.
Our message to the West is this: Let our leaders in Bahrain demonstrate their commitment to reform here, without constantly barraging them with your condemnation and outrage. Bahrain needs your support and solidarity in order to successfully manage this transition towards a society that provides for all and governs in the name of all its citizens, we hope that you are willing to demonstrate this solidarity.