Perhaps February is in fact the maddest month of the year, as there have been protests across Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Greece, and more muted rumblings in Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and of course Wisconsin.
If you are only a casual observer of the news, it may seem like the Middle Eastern/African/Arab/Islamic world has been spontaneously erupting into demonstrations and revolt. There may appear, if we are to trust popular entertainers such as Fox News or MSNBC; to be a sort of organic causality between riots- a cause celebre that has managed to unite people who clearly distrust each other (see Wikileaks as Saudia Arabia, defender of the faith, asks the United States to invade Iran).
I would like to plead, therefore, for the opposite case that superficial similarities in terms of political structures, religious beliefs and skin color do not necessarily make analogous existential crisis.
Though presenting and being presented as a unified front, the Middle East is home to diverse peoples (socially, culturally and religiously because not all Islams are made the same) and - ye gods yes- different political systems as well. Despite the triumphant narratives of the “democratic domino effect in the Middle East”#; what is happening is much more reflective of (and frankly can’t be understood without) national contexts, frustrations and passions. This section will be dedicated to compiling information on the historical background of, world response to, and general factual progression of the ongoing revolts in the Middle East/African/Arab/Islamic regions.
SPOTLIGHT ON BAHRAIN:
According to the CIA, Bahrain was formed in 1783 by the al-Khalifa family who conquered the land from Persia. The family’s power was cemented by signing treatises with the British in the 1800’s, effectively turning them into a protectorate and part of the empire. Independence was formerly attained in 1971.
As Ambrose Pierce so astutely pointed out war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. Not that the United States government, regardless of administration, is likely to bear arms against a country that among other things, houses the U.S. 5th fleet and 4,200 U.S. troops protecting the Gulf pipeline that supplies military maneuvers in Afghanistan. The U.S. military and nominally the State Department have ties to the ruling monarchy, and as of 1991 are committed to a bilateral defense pact. The U.S. government is to be “consulted” in times of “security threats” to the tiny ruling family, so for now the U.S. is calling for a peaceful resolution to the protests.
So far, the Bahraini Royal family seems to be refraining from militarizing the situation further, aware no doubt of the old adage that the fewer unarmed protesters you shoot, the less angry people become. The military, responding to the royal family, initially went in like gangbusters on February 14th 2011, showering protesters in Pearl Square (the main square in the capital of Manama) with tear gas from helicopters and firing into the crowd on mourners, as well as medics and reporters#.
The Royal Family has since allowed Pearl Square to be occupied by thousands of protesters, and ordered the military to withdraw. In a further gesture of “goodwill” the monarchy claims to have released about 300 prisoners on February 23rd 2011, 100 of whom were “political prisoners”. Lawyers for prisoners accused of sedition against the state are concerned that these releases may only be temporary. On the same day the crown prince annouced that he was open to dialogue with the protesters, as his father King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa goes to seek advice from King of Saudia Arabia.
Possible Roots of Protest:
Nine out of ten U.S. and U.K. news outlets agree that this is a demand by the Shi’ia population of Bahrain (the majority of the 526,000 citizens) for more representation from the Sunni Royal family. A noted blogger and activist Ali Abdulemam was released Februrary 23rd, claims that the arresting officers slandered his religion during his interrogation and incarceration in jail. There has been sustained outcry over the last decade against the absolute monarchy, which has resulted in dozens of arrests.
Additionally, outside of the U.S. media’s favorite explanation for tension in any Islamic country, youth unemployment has been and is a huge problem in Bahrain, at 15% unemployment. The situation is so acute that the Bahrani government officially pursues an anti-migrant worker policy to promote job growth for nationals within Bahrain. Reportedly, as the fiscal crisis worsens, funding for outside projects is drying up.
BREAKING NEWS: The Bahrani king has ousted four members of his cabinet, including two members of the royal family as protests continue.