7th Jul, 2013 –
While watching the momentous events in Egypt play out on live TV, one couldn’t help thinking whether the success of the crowds in bringing down a second president would reanimate protests in Bahrain – perhaps bringing thousands of protesters back to the streets after months of relative quiet.
Egypt at this moment would probably not serve as an inspiration for anyone of any ideological leaning. Yes, the crowds had once again shown the potential effect of people-power; but the coup by army leaders had been a final nail in the coffin of hopes for a smooth transition to democracy.
The Bahraini opposition in 2011 had tried to make everyone believe that Egypt-style revolution could bring democracy to Bahrain and that they were the ones capable of realizing this goal. For a whole number of reasons, we know today that this claim was completely false.
Why were Egypt and other states unable to move quickly and smoothly to a democratic system?
Firstly there has been the standoff between secularists and Islamists, with completely different visions for society. Secondly, the revolutions created high expectations for better lives, higher wages and a fairer society. The instability fatally weakened the economies of these countries, meaning that there was never any prospect of fulfilling these expectations.
Furthermore, because of a lack of political awareness; public debate became wholly focused on whether members of the new leaderships were linked to the ‘old guard’; in Libya this led to anyone who served under Qadhafi being banned from holding office – meaning that everybody who served in the new administration necessarily had no skills or experience!
Despite all the discussion about how ‘Islamic’ the new constitutions should be, there was relatively little public debate about how to establish effective and accountable political institutions, capable of holding those in power to account – meaning that whoever came to power would be more or less free to abuse that power.
Finally, the problem with any revolution is that it tends to throw the good away with the bad: In getting rid of all the bad aspects of the former regime, it also eliminates many important features of that country’s political culture; attempting to impose an abstract and alien political system in its place: One which enjoys no popular legitimacy when it fails to deliver on its utopian promises.
That is why it is so difficult to point to revolutions through history which haven’t been failures. This is not a failure of democracy, it is a failure of one forcible means of imposing it.
France did not become democratic because of its 18th century revolution; it became less democratic after Napoleon brought an end to several blood-stained years of revolution by seizing power and invading all of France’s neighbours. The revolution in Russia brought dictatorship of the worst sort.
The most successful democracies are generally those which have introduced it gradually after years of reforming more authoritarian systems, in a manner which preserves many of the best aspects of that political culture, strengthens the legitimacy of the governing system and grants security and prosperity to all civilians.
So why would anyone expect revolution to work in Bahrain? Particularly as King Hamad when he came to power over a decade ago removed many of the authoritarian aspects of Bahrain’s political system that were reflected in releasing political detainees and initiating a series of reforms through a new constitution voted on by popular referendum, consolidated through the reforms and constitutional changes of 2012. Bahrain is a textbook case of a country, which is moving towards a more democratic system through the framework of a Constitutional Monarchy.
The reality is that Bahrain’s Islamist opposition were never interested in real democracy, but only tried to jump on the democracy trend created by events of the so-called Arab Spring.
To imagine that Al-Wefaq Islamic Society’s clerical leadership like Ayatollah Isa Qassim and Sheikh Ali Salman are the democratic opposition in waiting requires a great stretch of the imagination. They are no more democratic than the Ayatollahs who seized power in Iran in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And let’s not forget that most of the forces on the streets in Iran in 1979 were secular or left wing students – their revolution was hijacked by clerics who wanted to take Iran back to the time of the Prophet.
Events in Egypt give the lie to Bahrain’s protest movement who claim that revolution was the only solution for our Kingdom.
All of us support reform and we support making Bahrain’s political system fairer and more representative. But does Egypt constitute a successful political model that we should want to follow? No thank you!