Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Modern Revolution

When the historians write the history of the late twentieth century, they will address the advent of the idea of a modern popular uprising, such as has felled the long lasting communist dictatorships in the late nineties and is now confronting the slew of Islamic autocracies that have held power for half a century.  They all thought that they were forever.

The cause is easy to determine.  For two generations the economies have been taxed by command and control governments whose idea of governance consisted of exchanging absolute power for front end skimming of the economy.  The natural result of all this is and was anemic growth if it existed at all.

That led to a simple lack of meaningful jobs for the young and educated in economies that just modernizing produces eight percent growth as China and India and everywhere else is now demonstrating.    Everyone has woken up to the trivial fact that it does not require the invention of special tool to produce a countries basic needs and even modern needs and that everyone is happy to sell them to you.

Yet if a company happened to arrive in Egypt, it was presented with a sea of open hands asking for juice in order to conduct any business from the top down.  I think that the Arab world will be astounded just how fast a modern economy will get built out once it is freed up.

For the Arab world, this is the real revolution.  It is the assertion of control by the middle class who will have no truck with religious fanatics who are on the way to complete marginalization.  It will be bumpy but it will be successful. We need only look to the outcomes in the former world of communism were only two to three  holdouts are not functioning democracies with steadily improving economies. 

All the other regimes are presently under assault and all the regimes that hope to survive are now beginning the Chinese foot race in which the command structure keeps generating eight percent growth to keep the people happy.  After all, everyone in China knows true democracy will be fairer, but will also naturally slow development.  So the trade off is simple.  Maximize growth through use of war time command until everyone has entered the modern world willy nilly.  Then accept lower growth for proper political control by the people.

It is all now exciting and actually turning out to be a surprisingly safe transition.  Both Egypt and Tunisia are on the way to a real democratic form.  The people feel their power and will not be denied.  Such a democratic form will swiftly quell the fanatics and this means that Egypt will soon defuse what is left of the Israeli Arab conflict.  No one is going to believe what I have just said, but the quick fix for Egypt is simply to allow the Gaza population to integrate with Egypt and convert Gaza into the Sunshine Coast.

Fanatics do grow old and you make sure that they have little chance to pass their hatreds on.  All this takes time, but a liberal democracy always has time.  Recall that the oldest intact government in existence today is the first modern democracy.  Thus we learn again that the weight of history is with the liberal democracy.  It is able to use time to massage out differences and repair cracks in society and generally allow its people to improve their lives.

Bahrain: The Social Roots of Revolt Against Another US Ally

By Finian Cunningham

Global Research, February 18, 2011

Bahrain, February 18. 2011. “Have you ever seen an island with no beaches?” The question posed by the young Bahraini taxi man standing among thousands of chanting anti-government protesters seemed at first to be a bit off the wall. But his explanation soon got to the heart of the grievances that have brought tens of thousands of Bahrainis on to the streets over the past week – protests which have seen at least seven civilians killed amid scenes of excessive violence by state security forces.  Unconfirmed reports put the death toll much higher.

Many Bahrainis, like the young taxi man, have witnessed huge wealth sloshing around their diminutive country of less than 600,000 indigenous people (perhaps another 300,000 are expatriates, official figures are vague). But so little of that wealth – especially in the last seven years of high oil prices when Bahrain’s national revenue tripled – has found its way into creating jobs and decent accommodation.  More than 50,000 Bahraini families are estimated to be on waiting lists for homes. Some families have been waiting for over 20 years to be housed, with several generations sharing the one roof, in cramp conditions with poor sanitation.

All the while, these people have come to feel like strangers in their own land, with their squalid conditions in inner-city areas and villages being in sharp contrast to the mega shopping malls and multi-storey buildings that have sprung up to attract US and European investors, financiers, companies and rich tourists.

The Gulf island’s oil wealth has been channeled into diversifying the economy away from dependence on oil and gas revenues into other sectors such as property development and international banking. The self-styled kingdom, which is sandwiched less than 30 kilometers on either side between the oil and gas giants of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has leveraged its hydrocarbon wealth to earn a reputation as a finance and trade hub in the Middle East on a par with Dubai located further south along the Arabian Peninsula in the United Arab Emirates.

But that reputation for being a cutting-edge capitalist hub – Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf region to have signed a free trade agreement with the US – comes at a heavy social and ecological cost. And it’s a cost that seems to have pushed a large section of the population too far, to the point where they are emulating the protests in TunisiaEgypt and other parts of the Arab world to demand long-overdue democratic rights.

In the early hours of Thursday, up to five thousand Bahraini protesters were forced from the main demonstration site at the Pearl Roundabout, a landmark intersection in the capital, Manama. The Bahraini authorities deployed helicopters, dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, with army and police firing teargas and live rounds. Among the protesters were hundreds of women and children.
At the centre of the site is the Pearl Monument, which alludes to the country’s traditional pearl diving and fishing industries – industries that were the mainstay of communities.

Within view of the monument are the iconic skyscrapers of Bahrain’s newfound wealth, including the Financial Harbour and the World Trade Center. Only a few years ago, this entire area of the capital was sea, the land having been reclaimed and developed. Up to 20 per cent of Bahrain’s total land area has been reclaimed from the sea over the past three decades.

However, this vast reclamation and development drive has, according to local environmental groups, devastated the island’s marine ecology and fish stocks in particular. The rampant development – which has made fortunes for the country’s elite – has had an equally devastating effect on local communities who have depended on the sea for their livelihoods. While these communities have suffered the blight of unemployment and poverty, they also have witnessed roaring property development, land prices and profits benefiting the ruling elite.

These communities have watched their country’s oil wealth being directed to serve elite interests with development plans that are geared to lure international capital. This has led to swathes of coastal areas being confiscated by members of the extended Al Khalifa royal family, to be earmarked for future reclamation and skyscraper development. That is how Bahrain has become something of a paradox – an island without any beaches. And it is this lopsided, elite-orientated development that is fuelling deep social grievances among the masses, grievances that are now being directed at those elites. Further state repression against such protests can only amplify these grievances.

Bahrain’s unstable social formation is underpinned by unwavering US diplomatic and military support. The island serves as the base for the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. The latest wave of state repression has tellingly elicited only a subdued, ambivalent comment from Washington, urging “all sides to refrain from violence” – Washington-speak that translates into support for the government. Last year, Bahrain received $19.5 million in US military aid, which, on a per capita basis, equates to greater than that delivered to Egypt.

Once again, another uprising against another US-designated “important ally” seems to be underway in the Arab world. And once again, the contradiction of elite rule and widespread poverty – all the more glaring in oil-rich countries – is ultimately undermining Washington’s imperial designs.

Finian Cunningham is a journalist and musician: finianpcunningham@yahoo.iewww.myspace.com/finiancunninghammusic 

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