Emergence of Popular Uprisings in Gulf

Hussain Abid

The revolutionary movements in Middle East, starting from Tunisia, affected all those Arab countries that had a semblance or charade of democracy, but monarchical regimes, especially Gulf countries, were spared and they tried to defeat these movements.

Besides forcing many changes in existing systems, in some other countries these revolutions mutated into internal chaos and disorder. Still in others, like Jordon, Morocco and Algeria, people through protests gained constitutional changes and reforms along with relief packages. How did oil and gas rich Gulf monarchies survive that revolutionary wave? Did their self-indulgent rulers possess the requisite political shrewdness to turn the face of these revolutionary movements?

Gulf countries followed a three-pronged approach. To protect the kingdoms and the rulers and strengthen their hold over power, huge public welfare programs and packages were announced, which were aimed at neutralizing simmering discontent among the populace and rise of revolutionary movements. Secondly, Gulf States were literally converted into brutal police states, squelching protests and disallowing any public gathering. In the meanwhile, many Arab States ran helter-skelter to buy the services of foreign mercenaries, considered unsympathetic to indigenous protestors, to quash these movements. For instance, Bahrain hired their services, which also included people from Pakistan. UAE brought private security personnel from the infamous Blackwater and Colombian militias.

The third plank of Gulf Monarchies’ strategy was to invent dummy and counter-revolutionary movements to undermine genuine uprising and revolts. It was done in Egypt, Yemen and Syria. After the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian military and doctored movements were used against Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, in Yemen they tried to steal the thunder of uprising by fashioning a provisional setup headed by Mansoor Hadi, a key ally of Gulf countries. In Syria, a reforms movement soon turned into internal chaos, thanks to foreign interference.

Gulf monarchies, on the one hand, have wanted to halt growing people’s movements against them; on the other hand, they have tried to malign these uprisings and revolts so as to make public opinion tilt against them. Have they succeeded in achieving their goals? It is a very important question. Experts and analysts in Arab world say that it is debatable whether revolutionary movements directly affected Gulf States or not, it is undeniable that a significant shift occasioned in their thinking and a palpable fear best represents it. That is why they have attempted to neutralize these revolutionary movements demanding drastic changes in different countries by swerving their directions in ways that benefit them.

Arab intellectuals say in unequivocal terms that they do not expect any radical change from the existing movements because they have neither a practical framework nor an alternative system; but nevertheless, they have managed to change public opinion in important ways.  Even European analysts and thinkers concur with their Arab counterparts that to supplant any existing system, movements should have an alternative political structure and as long as a new structure is not expounded, it is better to go on with the already existing system.

They are right to a certain extent, but ground realities defy them because some movements through organic growth have been successful to present a better alternative against the established order. The best examples are Tunisia and Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood in later case. But wherever movements were hijacked, they led to internal fissures.

A close scrutiny and serious contemplation of Middle East will yield the result that from Tunisia to Egypt only Muslim Brotherhood, the old religio-political movement, had the capability to lead revolutionary movements to victory, as was demonstrated in Egypt. It also has deep roots in certain countries of the region, however, it was not allowed to entrench itself in Gulf countries, but in some other countries like Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen, etc, it has had considerable influence. The religio-political ideology of Muslim Brotherhood is a permanent threat to monarchies in the region and Europe and US have opposed it due its religious background.

It should be taken into account that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), Tunisia’s Nahda, Hamas of Palestine along with Jamaat-i-Islami in both Pakistan and Bangladesh share a similar thinking within the Sunni world. Their political interpretation of Islam, unlike other religious groups, is much in align with democracy.  The primary demand of Gulf States for reconciliation, which severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, was to halt support of Muslim Brotherhood and break all links with it.

Dr. Karzavia, Egyptian-based Qatari leader, and Al-Jazeera channel are both ardent supporters of Muslim Brotherhood, whereas UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have fiercely tried to stamp it out. Arab intellectuals say the whisperings of similar uprisings and popular movements, which Gulf States tried to undermine by doling out immense amounts of money and creating armed groups to avert the threat of popular revolt spilling into their borders, are circulating within those countries. Weak, however, they are.

Arab experts think that trust for the monarchs among the Arab populace is getting eroded by each passing day and the rulers are afraid for their future.  A recent report in Financial Times says that the new generation of Saudi Arabia is not satisfied with King Salman’s 2030Vision.

On the one hand, Gulf societies are getting restless and agitated due to the monarchical system and on the other hand, a dwindling economy and growing unemployment create more causes for resentment among the people. They are not even satisfied with the foreign policies of their states, which largely revolve around perpetuating their rule through maintaining the status quo. Regional and international reports state that there is increasing criticism of monarchical system and murmurs of discontent in social media.

Middle East Eye ran a detailed report and analysis titled “A Revolution is Coming in Saudi Arabia”, which discussed its weak economy, internal political situation and jostling for power within the ruling family. The report says that if political and social freedom is not allowed and necessary economic reforms are not introduced in Saudi Arabia, then it could potentially lead to internal schism. Citing the example of popular movements in other Arab states, which had the same causes through which Saudi Arabia is currently passing through.

Hussain Abid is a non-resident IPI scholar specializing in Middle East Affair

Previous articleKashmir: Overcoming Nationalism Barriers for Dispute Resolution
Next articleQatar Crisis: Prognosis and Pakistan’s Dilemma
The Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) is a nonpartisan, independent policy research institute based in Islamabad. Our goal is to undertake in-depth analysis of challenges and choices confronting Pakistan. We aim to help policymakers and public better understand the world, region and Pakistan-specific challenges and opportunities. We make efforts to engage government, civil society, private sector, media, academia in open debates and dialogue on the most significant developments in national and international affairs. We envision contributing to policy-making through periodic policy-papers putting forward policy-recommendations developed in collaboration with experts and stakeholders in each area. IPI takes no institutional position on policy issues.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here