North Africa and the Middle East maybe burning with issues on toppling long serving autocratic leaders but here are some logical explanations why it might be different in Bahrain!!! This is my own view of the entire issue and not to undermine the power of the public in fighting for their cause – be it at Egypt or Bahrain or any other country!!!!
When the riot police in Bahrain opened fire on five hundred sleeping protestros about a week back, it was absolute rafferty’s rules over there. But one thing was clear from this demonstration of who’s the boss – the administration in Bahrain meant hard business!!!
As reported in Facebook, Twitter and several other social networking sites the news is that the change’ is now coming to Bahrain. Following Mubarak’s ouster, waves of revolution struck Yemen, Libya and finally reached the shores of Bahrain. But what must be remembered is that each wave is testing different shores. When thousands gathered at the Pearl roundabout mid-February, emulating the Tahrir model, there were few around the world who weren’t surprised. The few who knew this wasn’t the first time Manama would witness protests.
New Yorker’s Steve Coll writes, “Perhaps it would better to note that Bahrain’s is a long-running revolt that lacks an ‘unsubscribe’ option”. In his piece Bahrain’s Long Revolution (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/02/steve-coll-bahrain.html), he refers to the 2005 ‘pre-Facebook’ protests. Yes, Bahrainis did not wake up one sunny February morning and hit the streets.
First, a brief note on what the Bahraini administration currently looks like. There is a Bahraini parliament in existence where the King is all-powerful. He nominates the members to the Upper House- including the prime minister who has remained in power since 1971. It is only the lower house that the people of Bahrain elect. That would be 600,000 natives of a population that is 1.3 million; all the rest expatriates (a number far greater than Egypt’s). So let’s get one thing straight- this is a ‘pseudo-democracy’.
Second a comparison of economies – GDP per capita: Egypt-$2,000, Bahrain-$20,000 (IMF rankings 2010). The Egypt uprising was triggered by the unhappy ‘common man’. Mass unemployment, job insecurity and plain dissatisfaction of the population as a whole reigned for decades. Egypt is a nation where 40% of its people lived around the poverty line earning just $2 a day. Bahrain’s GDP per capita is about ten times more than Egypt. This isn’t a population disgruntled by lack of economic opportunities but other factors. And that took the world by surprise. This island nation had never shown signs of discontentment, what with a prosperous economy, modern lifestyle and most recently, its own Grand Prix circuit- a status symbol that put it right on the map. The statistics say it all. The Bahrainis war is on a different footing altogether.
Talking about religious dynamics – this is basically the same Shia vs Sunni story. So here’s the real problem. The tussle between two sects of the Muslim community that has lasted over 300 years, since the present ruling family (Al Khalifa) came to power. Bahrain is the one of the few nations which has a majority Shia population administered by a minority Sunni regime- a fact that speaks loudly in the form of Saudi Arabia’s strong alliance with the nation. On the ground, the Shi’ites have since long harboured political and economic grievances.
The rulers – The Bahrain royal family vs Hosni Mubarak: It takes a whole lot fiercer mutiny and strategy to dethrone a 300-year-old ruling monarchy than a sole dictator like Hosni Mubarak. And the Bahrain Emir (king) sent out his strongest message to ‘troublemakers’ on February 17 – Go home or die. There seems to be no different voices in the administrative sphere in Bahrain.
Of course the official version differs. The authorities defended their actions at the Manama roundabout claiming that security forces used a minimum of force and found firearms, knives and flags of Hezbollah (Lebanon-based group that the United States lists as a terrorist organization). So, the hundreds of demonstrators asleep in their tents at Pearl were terrorists, they say. Someone better tell the protestors that. Unlike Egypt, the military is falling right in line with what the government desires- a quick end to the mess. The ruthless crackdown that continues is proof of just that.
Now comes the Iranian impact on the uprising – The Bahrain regime’s one eye may be intent on ending the mess quick but the other is trained across the Gulf- towards Tehran. Many in the administration believe the Iranian Shia regime may be fuelling the fervour on the streets of Manama. And hence Bahrain finds its friends in the US & Saudi Arabia- nations who aren’t too fond of Iran either.
A silent Uncle Sam – The silence is evident. A brief ‘deeply concerned’ comment calling for ‘urgent restraint’ is all Obama could offer via telephone. The pressure that pushed Mubarak to the exit door isn’t evident yet though Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth fleet. How much leverage does the US have? How much of it will help sway things here?
lastly, a damage to the national pride and image of Bahrain – Bahrain’s global image has certainly taken a huge beating. The crackdown on February 17 at the Pearl roundabout ripped open the ugly wounds of an insecure regime. It showed it would not hesitate to kill even the defenceless – a stark contrast from what played out at Tahrir Square.
So do the angry voices at Manama stand a chance? The authorities may have withdrawn the army from the streets and initiated dialogue. But from past experience, let’s not expect an Egypt-styled total turnaround.