A gloomy LSE report on the “Arab Spring”: if real change is to happen, is Bahrain key?

As a percentage of population the Bahrain pro-democracy demonstrations have been the best attended of all demonstrations in the Arab World 2011-2012: the key to the success of failure of the “Arab Spring” is in Bahrain and beyond Bahrain, Saudi….

Perhaps a gloomy report on the “Arab Spring” from a recent report from the London School of Economics:


Is this merely Schadenfreude on the part of the LSE, which was hurt so badly in the fall out from Gaddhafi’s ouster? I doubt it, but can’t help thinking it.

I’ve not yet read the report in full, but will blog on it when I have. The report seems to make some worthwhile points. However, taking 1989 as a reference, wasn’t the transformation of once-Communist Europe more gradual than than rose-tinted memories allow?

The East European struggles date back at least to Solidarity in Poland circa 1980, and prior to that Prague ’68 and Hungary ’56. The USSR didn’t fall until December 1991. The bloody collapse of Yugoslavia continued until the early 2000s, and the EU-isation of the former Communist Bloc is still a work in progress, perhaps a stalled one in the current climate. Belarus remains a European dictatorship.

So it wasn’t all 1989. That year was, perhaps, a symbolic climax, but ahead lay a lot of work…and bloodshed. Similarly we can see 2011 as a kind of symbolic climax, perhaps a premature one, of movements that date back to at least the early 2000s, in some cases much earlier. Bahrain’s periodic uprisings go back to the 1890s.

But then I’ve always used the media term “Arab Spring” between gritted teeth, preferring the English rendering of the Arabic “Revolutions of Dignity”, obviously still too a work in progress.

The outcome of the Bahrain struggle, I would argue, is of key importance to the final outcome of the Arab uprisings. As a percentage of population Bahrain has seen the Arab World’s biggest demonstrations, and has led the democratisation struggle in the GCC region.

The future of the Arab World democratisation movement will be secured or destroyed in the GCC region, in beginning in Bahrain and beyond Bahrain in Saudi Arabia, in my view a neo-colonial Big Oil entity that is the least legitimate state on the face of the planet.

Saudi has to date played the counter-revolutionary game well, at least from its own perspective. Yet is also a state staring into an abyss of unresolved and perhaps unresolvable contradictions.

I’d argue Bahrain has a significance beyond its small size: it is Bahrain that has brought the Arab Spring to the Gulf, it is in Bahrain where the Saudi counter-revolution is being confronted head-on. Defeat their counter-revolution there and Saudi efforts in Syria, Egypt and North Africa will be similarly confounded.

Important also is the West’s attitude to the Arab uprisings, which compared to the West’s response to the fall of Communism contrasts shockingly in its highly selective and partisan engagement with various Arab polities and stakeholders.

Western policy towards the “Arab Spring” has been blinkered. In an unpredictably C21st, Western foreign policy needs to move beyond the C20th. Sometimes it seems stuck in the C19th, as in the UK’s neo-colonial policy towards its Bahraini “Princely State”.

Lastly, I’ll stress that this is a generational, perhaps once in a lifetime, opportunity for the Arabic-speaking world to embraces the changes necessary to ensure long-term stability, economic development, social and cultural progress, and obtain increases in living standards comparable to those achieved by other parts of the once “Third World”, like much of East and South East Asia.

If the Arab World screws it up through tribalism or sectarianism, or allow the Saud clan and the West to screw them up, the region’s future is bleak: the colonial and neo-colonial control by the West will be replaced by the Arab World’s new marginalisation for the rest of the C21st and possibly beyond.

I’m thinking of course of the C21st as potentially the Chinese Century, but also the rise of India. The states of what is at present the GCC may well live to regret the way they have treated South Asian workers during their Oil Age.

Get it right, and the countries of the Arab World will joint the ranks of the “Next 21” and similar emerging economies. Get it wrong, and it will face a similar set of issues to that faced by the sub-Saharan African countries during the second half of the C20th and the early C21st.

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