Bahrain: Arab Countries Fail to Address Problems

Monday, 04 Apr 2011 09:53 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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The uprisings in the Middle East are attributable in large part to the failure of Arab countries to address the economic plight of their youth, Shaikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s international media relations director, tells Newsmax.

“There’s no doubt that with the growing population in the youth sector in the Arab world, there’s been a lot of anger fomenting because of the economic situation,” al-Khalifa says. “I think the leaders of the Arab countries — especially those with limited resources in North Africa — have not addressed the situation of the youth in the best way.”

Now, he says, Bahrain and other Arab Persian Gulf countries face the same protests. So far, 27 people have been killed in protests in Bahrain, about half of them protesters and the rest police and bystanders.

“This wave just kind of swept across the region, and people felt that this was an opportunity that they should take advantage of,” al-Khalifa, who holds the rank of ambassador, says.

“When events arrived at the doorstep of Bahrain, and they saw regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, and we’re in the mist of regime change maybe in Libya, I think they thought that it could be possible in Bahrain, also.”

But, al-Khalifa adds, “What they didn’t anticipate was that Bahrain was never going to be taken as a sole player. Bahrain is one of six gulf countries and, therefore, for regime change to take place in Bahrain, you have to talk about regime change in all six countries, because not one country is going to let the other fall and the others just remain behind.”

Bahrain,Middle East,Persian Gulf,al-Khalifa
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa
At the same time, al-Khalifa says, Bahrain is moving toward political reform. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who was crowned in 2002, is considered a moderate. Despite criticism by local media, he appointed Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, a Jew, as ambassador to the United States. She is the first Jewish ambassador to be appointed by any Arab country.

“The king has called for dialogue to discuss a reformed parliamentary system and a more inclusive government,” al-Khalifa says. Members of the upper house of parliament are now appointed by the king.

“The majority of the demands that the opposition made have been put on the table, including fairer voting,” he says.

Initially, the protesters set three preconditions to talks — all accepted by the government — but they have now increased the demands to 12, al-Khalifa says.

“They said all military off the streets, all prisoners that have been in prison recently have to be released, and that was done,” he says. “The military were off the street, and there was one more precondition and that was met, and then they started making newer preconditions that have gone up to 12.”

In the meantime, al-Khalifa says, Iran, which has called the Bahrain uprising a Shiite rebellion, has been trying to take advantage of the situation. Shiites account for nearly 70 percent of the population of Bahrain, but the island country is ruled by a Sunni royal dynasty led by the king.

“All of Iran’s broadcast channels are targeting Bahrain 24 hours a day, giving very false events, reports of events in Bahrain,” al-Khalifa says. “They were encouraging the rebellion.

"The Iranian foreign minister has come out and said that the government should listen to the opposition’s demands and needs of people. This is coming from a government that had hanging gallows in a lot of their public squares a year and a half ago when they had the Green Revolution.”

The uprisings could go one of two ways, al-Khalifa says.

“The worst-case scenario is we might end up in civil war,” he says. “We might end up like another Lebanon. That’s the worse-case scenario. The best-case scenario is dialogue happens, and we agree to all of the points.

"It’s a win-win situation, and Bahrain progresses for the next few decades without any major problems that will interfere in our economic reforms, so we can build a better Bahrain for our children to live in.”

However, the Arab world as a whole needs to recognize how grave the situation is. “The region as a whole has not seen this kind of divide between Sunnis and Shiites, and we need to really start making efforts to reconcile our communities immediately,” al-Khalifa says.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.



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