Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bastards in Bahrain.

Well the Grand Prix maintained its record of holding races in horrible regimes. The little island of Bahrain is just the most recent example, but there were the races in Apartheid South Africa and Fascist Spain of yesteryear. It was good to find updates in the mainstream, just a glimpse at the courageous pro-democracy movement: particularly the ongoing hunger strike by Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. The most recent protests and deaths at the hands of the police forces have received much more attention than they would have otherwise. The repression in Bahrain now has John Yates, once a candidate for the top job in the Met, to defend the House of Khalifa. Well, you've got to pay the mortgage somehow! On top of this, King Hamad has been invited to dine at the celebrations of the Queen's Jubilee. All of this comes over a year since the Saudi intervention in Bahrain was waged. The intervention embodied the West's anxiety at the prospect of democracy in the Middle East.

First it was Bahrain, then it was Libya. By then, Ben Ali and Mubarak had been swept away by the revolutionary contagion spreading rapidly from country to country. You can say it was oil in Libya, but you can't simply say that about Bahrain. The island isn't simply a major oil-producer unlike it's neighbours. There is a reason that the US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain, it is well situated to defend the status quo. In the West the fear was that the uprising would establish a Shi'ite dominated state in the Gulf. This would go far to undermine the Arab facade of US client-states which keep a friendly hand on the oil spigot. It could mean a new ally for Iran, not to mention give ideas to the Shi'ite dominated eastern province of Saudi Arabia. This is at a time when the Iraqi government is looking to avoid another war with Iran and instead wants stable relations. Meanwhile a civil war rages in Syria with the Ba'ath Party just about clinging to power, its talons bloody as ever.

As with the violent repressions in Syria and Libya, the reason given in Bahrain was to defend the nation from 'foreign interference'. Similarly, in Egypt, Mubarak had anti-Semitic propaganda distributed as he called on Bibi Netanyahu to send the IDF into Tahrir Square. By then it was too late to save the tyrant, the military shunted Mubarak out of office hoping to buy-off the opposition. Meanwhile the Israeli political class watched with great unease as the US gave up on blocking elections in Egypt after it became impossible to save the dictator. And for good reason, Egypt has been a vital US proxy since Sadat dragged the country into a tacit alliance with Israel in the 1970s. By then Sadat had already imposed market reforms which destroyed the country's middle-class and opened the door to corruption. After the rebellions of 2011 suppressed, the serious question for the House of Khalifa is how to reformulate the old order.

Ironically, it was in eastern Arabia that a esoteric Ismaili sect set out to build a society based on reason and equality. By 899 the Qarmatians had established a utopian republic in what is now Bahrain. Its system of governance consisted of a council of six with a chief who was the first among equals. Out of a millenarian fervour the Qarmatians sacked Mecca in 930, stealing the Black Stone and dumping dead pilgrims in the Well of Zamzam. The Qarmatians may have first attempted to redirect the pilgrimage away from Mecca before holding it for ransom. Whatever the case, over 20 years later, the Black Stone was left shattered in the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq. The opportunity to seize control had come for the Qarmatians from the aftermath of the slave rebellion in Basra, which raged from 869 to 883 and had left Baghdad diminished in power. Hundreds of thousands of slaves participated as the rebels held that the most qualified man should reign - even if he is a black slave.

Even in recent history, Bahrain has seen uprisings and significant protest over the last 20 years for democracy with the state managing to fend-off each successive wave of opposition. Given that Bahrain is an important artery to the heart of capitalism in the Middle East, it may mean that the GCC itself has to been shaken up sufficiently to bring about democratic change. This would mean serious change in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE.  Notice there has been no regime change and no reform in any of these states. The repression was swift to prevent any serious opposition from even appearing on the streets. This is where most of the power in the region is concentrated, the epicentre of capital accumulation from an unsustainable energy trade. The Arab Spring has shaken a rotten status quo in the region to its core, but has yet to fundamentally change the Middle East. This isn't to say that it has been a failure, far from it, it means that it has to go further.

No comments: