When the uprisings first hit our region, most of us were driven into clichés and slogans praising the people for being brave to fight for change and speak. Since the 1980s, the people have been seen by ‘the elite’ as pacified and silent. Right now, as we enter the third year of Arab revolutions, we are faced with new realities, and the utopia of having the people speak up and form their new countries can no longer remain idolized.
In the Gulf, protests took place in almost every country. Bahrain had a revolution, Kuwait protested and succeeded in changing its prime minister, Saudi’s eastern province spoke against discrimination and long imprisonment, the Islamists tried to mobilize in the UAE, workers went on strike in Oman, and citizens in Qatar protested against their country’s relations with Israel and the US.
The Gulf still didn’t possess a momentum similar to Tunisia and Egypt’s, but much can come out of those movements as they destabilize the monarchies.
A few weeks after the Bahraini revolution, the people felt bitter and angry when some members of the opposition decided to dialogue with a regime that still has hundreds detained. This story keeps repeating itself as different powers keep trying to foster dialogue between the regime and the opposition, all in the name of saving the country from economic and political devastation.
In Kuwait, the youth are trying to separate themselves from the opposition so that other social groups who feel alienated by the conservative-Islamist opposition can join; especially the Shia minority and women. Some of them issued statements calling for a political change in the system that grants more power to the parliament. So far, those attempts have failed. In Kuwait, like in Bahrain, eyes are looking for new political forces that can push for change without having to be part of the current group of key players.
After the uprisings, the question is no longer about the need to speak as much as it is how to speak. The protests in both countries are intermittent, but none of the players have offered an exit for the crises. Knowing that both regimes feel intimidated, political forces need to get to a point in which change can be negotiated.
In the Bahraini example, the people clearly state during protests their demand to see the fall of the royal family. The leaders who first expressed this demand during the revolution ended up in jail or were already in exile. If the people can no longer tolerate dialogue with the royal family then the opposition needs to realize that taking the middle ground is no longer an option for them. Bahrain has passed the stage of calling for reforms.
In the Kuwaiti example, the opposition keeps emphasizing that their fight is not against the ruling family or the Emir. As the Emir insists on his decree to change the voting law, which produced a puppet parliament last month, the opposition should have a clear list of demands that don’t threaten other groups in society.
Clearly, the Kuwaiti opposition is too amateur to achieve anything. They believe that time and stubbornness will produce victories. This is why new players need to take over the scene. The youth attempted this take-over, but they ended up under the opposition’s wing out of fear of being divided and inexperience.
Certainly, seeing more pressure in the streets against the regimes is a necessity. Yet if the political leaders do not reflect what the people want and are incapable of reading the situation, the people will not be as easily mobilized to fight for change.
* Published in AlAkhbar