Everyone is talking about it in the Middle East: Change Change Change. Reform Reform Reform. And you know what, there is no doubt in my mind that it will come.
Change, and that monumental change, is looming large on the area. The internal and external factors are in place, and most importantly, the public mood is turning towards it. The privilige (or burden) of such an event will fall on our generation's shoulder, and this is an oppurtunity that does not occur very often.
No one knows exactly when the change will occur, but when it will occur, it will be with a bang. This is the nature of such regimes. Factos that lead to change keep building up over a period until the situation becomes extremely charged up, and then all it needs is one spark that ignites the whole process. We've seen it happen before (e.g. Iran in 1979, the Soviet Union in the eighties), and it will most probably happen again.
The middle East over the past several hundred years has been characterized by continuous flux but no significant political product in the end. Oppurtunities for real change sparsely come by. The last time the oppurtunity came along was in our fathers' generations in the fifties and sixties, and to be completely honest, they did not make the best of it. Now it has come to us.
Rarely does an oppurtunity of such monumental proportions and huge consequences arise for a country. What we have looming on the horizon could potentially be as groundbreaking as the War of Independence and the drafting of the constitution in America, or the Ghandi revolution in India. In a way I guess, we are lucky that we are going to be part of such a huge change. On the other hand, the route cand be painful and hugely unpredictable. The current situation in the Middle East is crumbling at an accelarating speed and is not sustainable in the long run. Drastic change from the roots is looming and this could spell a major fork in the road.
And the most important thing is no one can stop it. The events have gathered such a momentum that no single entity can reverse it. They might be able to greatly influence where it turns to, but going back to the status quo is not possible. I'm not sure yet if leaders across the region have realized it yet, but if they believe they can somehom terminate the looming process, then they are sincerely misguided.
We have been landed with the chance of shaping the history for the region for many years to come, and it is a huge responsibility that we can only try to grasp its mantle.
One imposing question does come up however. What is it that we want? What direction do we want the change. What is the final goal that we have in our site?
Everyone has been shouting about wanting change and reform. Vague slogans and demands of democracy and human rights have been thrown around. We are all gunning for change, but what is that we want?
It is all very nice talking about pretty ideals that we'd like to see in a Utopia, but ideals usually can crash head on with the practicalities of reality. Just ask about our fathers how their ideals of Nationalism and Arabism got cruelly shattered over the past 40 years.
Hence, I think it is a truly important question that we address what we want develop in the future. To start with, I'm going to try and analyze the situation for our beloved country Bahrain.
What is it that people want to eventually reach in Bahrain. It seems to me there are realistically the following choices:
1. Status quo, and by that I mean a near or absolute monarchy, where all of the important decisions are taken by the royal family.
2. The current stated aim of most political parties, which is an executive controlled by the rulers and a judicial (truly) adopted and representative of the people. i.e. some sort of constitutional monarchy
3. Parliamentary monarchy- and by this I mean a system similar to that in England, where the royal family play a largely symbolic and traditional role, with the people electing the executive and the legislative.
4. Pure democracy or republic- where the monarchy no longer plays a role and all power is handed to the electorate.
5. Parliamentary theocracy- something similar to that which exists in Iran, where there is a parliament but most of the power is in the hands of a ruling religious elite.
6. Pure theocracy- something similar to what existed in Afghanistan, with the religious elite having absolute power and decision making.
7. Get the hassle over and bring us a colonizing force.
Those are the options, I think, which are conceivable at the moment in the future. One of them will eventually take place. Each one of these, however, will have vastly differing consequences, and hence I think it's crucial that we each develop at least a general idea of which we prefer to see arise. Just calling for change and then just saying خلها على الله regarding which one eventually emerges is a potentially dangerous attitude that has led the region to catastrophic consequences in the past. Look at where Nasserism or the revolution in Iran has led us, which were largely motivated by the quest for change but no coherent idea of what this change is going along with it. The problem is this attitude still persists today in many callers for change, where their slogans are extremely vague stating democracy human rights and other ideals without giving a clear outline about their aims and ideas for the future. Hence, let us analyze each of the above on its own.
First to the status quo. I don't think many people are happy about it in the country. A while ago I've posted an article about how Bahrain seems to be in a Glasnost and Perestroika stage, where people can say (generally) whatever they want and the government can do whatever it wants. i.e. Relative freedom of speech but not much action and reform to go with it. I still hold that opinion. Yes there have been recent setbacks to freedom of speech, and yes there are concerns about the new laws regarding registering sites online. I truly believe however that the explosion of blogs and forums (see previous posts) has reached the stage of being irreversible and whoever is behind this law is trying to clutch on to the last straws. Speech and opinions, thanks to the new media age, have reached the point of never being able to be silenced, and I truly do not think that that is the main obstacle at the moment. People, given the current means at hand, will always find a way of publishing their views. The problem is, however, as I pointed out in the linked post above, is that you when combine relatively free expression (due mainly to the internet and satellite tv) with almost non-existent reform and change, people get restless, and they start voicing their opinions even louder, thus accelarating the speed of change. We are witnessing this all over the Middle East, where it is largely agreed upon that one of the main catalysts for the calls for change is the prevalence of satellite TVs and the internet. For these reasons, I don't think the status quo is sustainable or desirable in the future.
How about option 2, that of having an executive picked and dominated by the rulers and a legislative branch that sets laws that is picked by the people? I have also posted a post before about my opinion on this. Basically, this option would entail cohabitation, which means that there are two sides with different interests that will try to outsmart to each other. Each side is trying to cater to its own interests and goals, with government trying to keep as much power as possible and the legilative trying to usurp more power and to guarantee that they are elected once again. This I think will not only be vastly inefficient, creating constant bickering and tit-fpr-tat strategy, but could also build up to lead to a massive final showdown between each side. It does have its merits, however. I'll come back to it later on.
To be continued (maybe tomorrow, a week, a month, who knows, it depends on me and my baby and the free time we have).