Anyone who goes away from Bahrain for a while and then comes back, I think, notices something new about the place. Well, not exactly something new, but something that has always been there but you've not noticed before. I don't mean here the new buildings springing up all over bahrain (and there are a lot of them, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not). I mean when you realize something about the place that you haven't realized before, but it has always been there.
This time, the thing that struck about bahrain (and probably the gulf in general) is how, compared to any other country in the world, we have become a nation of "6erarwa", or beggars. By that I mean that people in Bahrain expect, want, and get everything they need from the government. We get our water subsidized from the government. The same goes for electricity. If you want a land and a loan to build a house, you go begging from the government. You want a job, you go begging from the government (or at least that's the case for most Bahrainis). You want health service, you go to the government. From the second we are born, we owe it to the government, and even when we die, we expect the government to bury us. All of this, of course, we expect to be free, or to be at extremely subsidized rates.
Now there maybe cultural or historical reasons for this, but I think the main reason for it is directly from the actions of the government. Ever since the oil growth spurt of the seventies, the government thought we have (more than) enough money at the moment to subsidize everything for the people. In other words, we have so much money, let's just throw it out at the people. No, there was no long term planning going on here. Hence, we got free water, electricity, (cheap) housing, and even burial.
Why did the government do this? I don't know. Probably because it seemed the easiest and most logical way at the time. They get the money, and in order to satisfy the people and keep them quiet, they throw some of the money back to the people. Now for the government, this tactic might have some benefits. It makes the people completely dependant on the government, and hence always leaves the rulers in a superior position. Whenever anyone is in need of anything, be it something as big as building a house, or as minute as needing a was6a to cancel a speeding ticket, there is only one way for them to go. No, it's obviously not that inept entity called a parliament, but the all-mighty and powerful government. Thus, a dependency is created, and as long as it is maintained, the government will always have the upper hand.
It also, however, creates severe drawbacks. To give an analogy, the government is the father, and the citizens are his children. Now the father used to be very poor. He then, however, by a huge stroke of luck, struck (black) gold in his backyard. He suddenly had an amazing amount of money. He could even afford to buy a whole roasted sheep to feed his two children. The father always took two whole roasted legs for himself, but each child was extremely happy to be able to eat a whole leg roast by himself. As time passed by however, the children began to multiply. Instead of two, there were now twelve. A whole sheep should be able to feed twelve children. However, the father, being a bit greedy, insisted on keeping two whole legs for himself. Hence, the twelve children now have to spllit two legs between them. This still should be enough, but the children, by now, were used to a certain standard. They were used to eating a whole leg, and it is hard to adjust from a whole leg to only a sixth of a leg. They also kept giving envious glances towards the father, chowing away in his two legs. They kept wondering, what right does he have, since he does not work either, to have two whole legs, while we only get a sixth?
There is another problem, however. The normal circle of life dictates that when the children become adults, they're supposed to be able to go and look for their own food. They're supposed to get a job, and become independent. In our scenario, however, this is not the case. The father has pampered his children so much, and made them so used to a lazy lifestyle, that the children find it hard to grow out of the dependancy on their father. They're used to waking up every day at 3 in the afternoon, and to have a whole roasted leg of lamb in front of them. They are yet to grasp the point of going out on their own, and hunting down their own feast.
This basically, is I think what's happening to Bahrain. People have become so used to the lifestyle of begging and the government providing everything, that they continue to believe that that will be the case in the future. Just open any Arabic newspaper and look at the readers' mail section. There is always one guy complaining that he has applied to work in the defence force two years ago, and he is yet to get a job. Obviously, he is perplexed and pissed off, since his father's mother's cousin has a job there, so why can't he get one. Another person is angry because he's been on the waiting list for a housing loan for ten years, and he is yet to get one, although his neighbour just got one. This story goes on and on, and is repeated day after day in every section of life, from electricity bills to health services.
The problem is that, as I've said before, the money pie the government has to throw around has increased by relatively modest terms since the seventies, while the population and its demands is unrelentlessly exploding upwards. It is going to become harder and harder for the government to keep treating people as beggars (and pretty expensive and demanding ones at that), and then fulfill their demands.
So what is a way out of this? There is no way around the fact that people will have to (sooner or later) take more responsibility, and expect less of the government. Water and electricity prices will have to go up, and other sources of jobs and housing loans will have to be found.
This however, is a two-way deal, and the government's actions will have to change drastically. Most importantly, and this will definitely be a drastic change, the concept of accountability will have to be introduced. So far the government does not have anyone keeping a watchful eye on how it gets and how it spends its money. That's why it has been able to treat people as beggars, and dispense the money as it sees fit. That will have to change. Some sort of watchdog will have to be set up, to make sure that the money is spent in the wisest and most efficient way. That will mean that the fatcats who've been able to channel millions of dinars out of the country's revenue to their own private accounts will have to go on a bit of diet.
Now what is the best way of implementing all of this? Well, there is no way around it. The most unpopular political policy will have to be introduced: taxes. Taxes obviously have many drawbacks, not least of which is some government professing to know best how to spend my (well at the moment my parents) hard-earned money. They do, however, have one important advantage: that of accountability. At the heart of the theory of taxation lies that issue. If the government wants to take my money, I want to know how it spends it, and it better spend it wisely. It creates a direct link where the government is directly answerable to the people, and where the people can hold the government accountable to something: their money. In other words, it breaks the circle of the 6erarwa, the beggars, or the circle of the father and his roasted lamb-loving children. Now the government cannot just give away the money in any way it sees fit, as it is no longer its money. It cannot use the excuse of, "be thankful I'm giving you this money, land, and job, as I can take it all away (since its mine) and let you to rot on the streets." The money will have to be spent in a wiser, and more efficient way.
I know this probably is not the most popular post, as I can imagine people right now cringing at the idea of taxation. Sooner or later though, it will have to happen. Like they say, there are two certain things in life: death and taxes. Just like death, you can delay and run away from taxation, but it will catch up with you eventually.