Mass protests and changing time
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.