Mass protests and chang­ing time

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Mo­ham­mad Al­ru­maihi

Iper­formed the Haj this sea­son. Nat­u­rally, mil­lions of Mus­lims were there and one got to meet dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple, es­pe­cially from other Arab coun­tries - Ye­me­nis, Egyp­tians, among oth­ers. It hap­pened that the week of the Haj was pre­ceded by a great Sun­day in Kuwait, where a good num­ber of Kuwaitis took to the streets, de­mand­ing cer­tain po­lit­i­cal re­forms af­ter weeks of ten­sion.

So the ques­tion most fre­quently asked by those Arabs you meet on the train pro­vided to fa­cil­i­tate the move­ments be­tween the dif­fer­ent spots and lo­ca­tions of the Haj, was: Why do you, Kuwaitis, head to the streets, when you have al­most ev­ery­thing pro­vided to you by the gov­ern­ment to lead an easy and com­fort­able life - from free ed­u­ca­tion, to free health care ser­vices and hous­ing?

Un­der the cir­cum­stances, the ques­tion is very le­git­i­mate. Wealth can pro­vide al­most ev­ery­thing one needs, but some do not re­alise the im­pact of what is go­ing on in neigh­bour­ing Arab coun­tries and the ad­vance of mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion on the at­ti­tudes of a good num­ber of the Gulf peo­ple. It is not the ma­te­ri­al­is­tic sat­is­fac­tion that is sought, but a kind of po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion, as the new gen­er­a­tion feels that they are alien­ated from pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. Un­less this point is un­der­stood, the whole is­sue could be missed by any ob­server.

Gulf cit­i­zens do not want to change the rul­ing gov­ern­ments; even the lead­ers of the mass protests have de­nied that pub­licly. They just want to change the minds and at­ti­tudes of the peo­ple in high of­fices. That is the ma­jor and fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween what is go­ing in the Gulf and what hap­pened else­where in the Arab Spring coun­tries.

Most Gulf cit­i­zens want their rul­ing fam­i­lies to stay in charge. Yet they de­mand re­forms of bu­reau­cracy. His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, the Gulf au­thor­i­ties were very flex­i­ble to change. They have had to face great chal­lenges - from wars to the spread of dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies in the past five decades or so and man­aged to sur­vive be­cause they were flex­i­bly adopt­ing old roles with new tac­tics.

To­day, they are fac­ing new as­pi­ra­tions from what I call the "Twit­ter Gen­er­a­tion" who com­mu­ni­cate with each other freely, ex­chang­ing not just pos­i­tive ideas, but also nasty ru­mours.

There­fore, the first step the Gulf au­thor­i­ties should take is to lis­ten and com­mu­ni­cate with them, ad­her­ing to the le­git­i­mate de­mands of this new and grow­ing gen­er­a­tion and cor­rect­ing the neg­a­tive ideas they pos­sess.

Al­most three quar­ters of the Gulf states' pop­u­la­tion are cit­i­zens un­der the age of 30, who have had some sort of mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion and have vis­ited a num­ber of de­vel­oped coun­tries. They have been ex­posed to new ideas and dif­fer­ent ways of life through the ad­vanced means of new me­dia. To think that they would ac­cept what their fathers and grand­fa­thers had ac­cepted will be an il­lu­sion.

Young men and women com­mu­ni­cate with each other, not just in one Gulf state, but across bor­ders, as well as es­tab­lish­ing a net­work that was never seen be­fore. There­fore, what hap­pened in Kuwait re­cently and what is still hap­pen­ing, was im­me­di­ately re­flected across the Gulf re­gion.

For ex­am­ple, a Saudi ac­tivist took the words of Twit­ter across a great num­ber of fol­low­ers to sup­port the move­ments, Bahrai­nis look at what hap­pened in Kuwait as a kind of rep­e­ti­tion of what they have been deal­ing with for the past few months, while in Qatar and Oman and other places some peo­ple joined the party at least through the elec­tronic me­dia as ac­tive par­tic­i­pants or ob­servers.

The protest move­ment in Kuwait will prob­a­bly get worse be­fore it calms down, es­pe­cially with the an­nounce­ment of the up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tions that start on De­cem­ber 1 for the 15th par­lia­men­tary ses­sion.

It is cus­tom­ary for a sharp dif­fer­ence of opin­ion to take place and it is the young gen­er­a­tion that be­comes the vic­tim of the di­vided po­lit­i­cal opin­ion.

It is time to move with the tide for change, by look­ing deeper into the new gen­er­a­tion's as­pi­ra­tions and hopes, not merely sat­is­fy­ing their ma­te­ri­al­is­tic needs.

The com­pli­ca­tions and chal­lenges fac­ing Gulf so­ci­eties had never been at this level. The chal- lenges are great, in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally, and one of the best ways to meet the de­mand of the times is to move rapidly to­wards a sort of uni­fi­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Gulf states.

This can limit the neg­a­tive side-ef­fects of the winds of change by clos­ing the gap be­tween the stan­dards of liv­ing across the six Gulf nations and pro­vid­ing them with a large num­ber of lo­cal man­power which is much-needed for de­vel­op­ment, while try­ing very hard to min­imise the gap be­tween cit­i­zens in terms of in­come and ser­vices.

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