Wednesday December 28th 2011
Still rich but no longer so calm
Voices of dissent are popping up here and there in the Gulf too
Dec 3rd 2011 | from the print edition
THE notion that the Gulf is a haven of serenity while the rest of the Arab world burns—or goes to the polls—is beginning to seem less plausible. In Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even the placid United Arab Emirates (UAE), people opposing the ruling families are giving voice to dissent. The region’s rulers have long relied on their oil wealth as a way to keep their citizens quiet but as ripples of unrest spread, this may not work for ever.
Kuwait’s prime minister, Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, had to step down on November 28th over allegations of corruption. Earlier that month opposition politicians and protesters stormed parliament, one of the few bodies in the Gulf elected on a universal franchise, to demand his resignation.
»Still rich but no longer so calm
Anger may grow again in Bahrain thanks to the government’s so far tepid response to a report by an independent commission that examined a crackdown earlier this year on pro-democracy protests. No one has had to resign, despite the report’s conclusion that torture had been routine. King Hamad replaced the head of the National Security Agency but then made him a personal adviser. Unless the king enacts real reforms, protests are likely to resume.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s giant, has not been immune to unrest. Between November 20th and 23rd, four men were killed in protests in the eastern, Shia-populated city of Qatif. Footage on YouTube showed several hundred marching protesters, a rare sight in the kingdom.
Even Abu Dhabi, the richest of the seven statelets making up the UAE, has had to silence the voice of dissent. On November 27th five cheeky pro-democracy bloggers who had been in prison since April charged with “insulting” the country’s royal rulers were sentenced to terms varying from two to three years. A day later they were pardoned by Sheikh Khalifa al-Nahyan, the UAE’s president.
But their original demand, which so incensed the authorities, that parliament be directly elected and given legislative power, will not be forgotten in a hurry. Billows of the Arab spring have reached even the Gulf.
from the print edition | Middle East and Africa
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