Semi-pregnancy, semi-democracy, semi-honesty
What is the current situation in Bahrain? Is there any similarity between what’s happening in Bahrain and the so-called “Arab Spring”? Was what happened in Bahrain a sectarian unrest? These and other such questions were the core of a recent discussion between a small group of journalists and Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, chief foreign policy advisor to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
According to an official Bahraini Parliament report, the past year of rioting may have cost Bahrain up to $800 million in direct and indirect losses. Abdul Ghaffar said that unlike pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world, the unrest in Bahrain was started by the Shiites with sectarian provocation (from Iran).
He was particularly keen to stress that Bahrain was like a sea of prosperity and democracy in the world, because besides having a largely democratic atmosphere, its social welfare state was so advanced that besides providing free health and social services of all kinds the Bahraini government was also providing its citizens with free housing and charging only negligible amounts as tax.
In a country where oil production is rather limited and the economy is heavily dependent on the service sector, Abdul Ghaffar especially addressed the impact of the unrest on the private sector. He complained that the private sector and the government were advising the protestors to limit their protests to certain days and certain areas and in order to help minimize the impact of the protests on free private enterprise, the backbone of the Bahraini economy.
Abdul Ghaffar’s words reminded me of the great writer George Orwell, and a line from his outstanding novel “Animal Farm”: “All animals are equal but some are more equal.” A country’s economy is important. The smooth functioning of an administration is important. Having democratic governance is great. But in democracies people have the unrestricted right to peaceful protest.
Naturally if protestors resort to violence, security forces (or the forces of allies) are required to intervene and stop violence. But security forces should not turn a peaceful rally into a violent one on the grounds that prior permission was not obtained. In democracies the right to protest is fundamental. If there is democracy, this right ought to exist. There can be no semi-democracy, much like there can be no semi-pregnancy.
Isn’t this a problem in Turkey, too? With over 100 journalists in prison, and with the prime minister still denying there are journalists in prison; with so little action taken to keep women from being murdered violently by their husbands, fathers and brothers; with labor rights so strictly curtailed, there can be no democracy.
Of course the Bahraini incidents were sectarian and triggered with outside political motivation. Bahrain and its allies were compelled to react against such outside interference and instigation. What about the situation in Syria? Can we talk about foreign interference there as well?
Is there a neighboring big country providing arms from its own stockpile, provided by other neighbors and from across the Atlantic, in that situation as well? Is there a neighbor providing logistical support and even headquarters to the Syrian rebels? Is the Syrian uprising really demanding greater rights, or is it just a partly veiled sectarian war? Can we be honest, or is semi-honesty preferred?