By Pepe Escobar
There's a specter haunting the Persian Gulf: democracy.
This Tuesday, no less than 20% of the population of Bahrain poured into the Lulu (Pearl) roundabout in Manama in its biggest anti-feudal monarchy demonstration intimately connected to the great 2011 Arab revolt. A whole cross-section of Bahraini society - teachers, lawyers, engineers, their wives and children - rolled along in a wide, unbroken column of red and white, the colors of the national flag.
This Wednesday, there were reasons to believe the revolt was finally hitting the holy grail, ie, the House of Saud, as 100 youngsters hit the streets of Hafar al-Batin, in northeast Saudi Arabia, calling for the end of its drenched-in-oil feudal monarchy. What's extraordinary is that this happened as "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" Saudi King Abdullah, 85, was returning home after three months following surgery in the US and convalescence in Morocco - amid massive regime propaganda, complete with Orientalist touches such as men in white robes doing traditional Bedouin sword dances on special carpets.
For the House of Saud, the revolt is the ultimate nightmare; as the whole world knows by now, tiny Shi'ite-majority Bahrain borders the large Shi'ite majority oil-producing parts of Saudi Arabia. So no wonder King Abdullah had barely set foot on his carpets when he went pre-emptive to quell any possible democracy-yearning moves, launching a US$35 billion program that includes one year of unemployment benefits for jobless young people, and adding into a national development fund which helps people to buy homes, set up businesses and get married.
In theory, Saudi Arabia has pledged no less than a massive $400 billion until the end of 2014 to improve education, healthcare and infrastructure. Chief economist at Banq Saudi Fransi, John Sfakianakis, euphemistically puts it as "the king trying to create wider trickle down of wealth in the shape of social welfare''.
Invariably, euphemism stops at politics; there's no sign the king will invest in the political aspirations of his subjects - as political parties, labor unions and protests remain absolutely banned. And there's no evidence he's inclined to address the huge social problems - from government repression to religious intolerance - which have forced him to announce this multibillion "trickle down" gambit.
And guess who was there to greet King Abdullah and discuss the "crisis"- code for The Great 2011 Arab Revolt? That's right – his Sunni neighbor feudal monarch, King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
Killing them softly with our song
The Western-concocted Disneyworld narrative that King Hamad was "reform-minded", interested in "advancing democracy" and "preserving stability", was totally shattered by his mercenary army firing live ammo from anti-aircraft guns from APCs at protesters who were carrying flowers, or American Bell helicopters overhead chasing people and shooting at them.
A Twitter posting last week by Bahraini journalist Amira al-Husseini summed it all up; "I too love Bahrain. I am Bahraini. My blood is Bahraini - and I witnessed my country die in the eyes of its children today."
The Shi'ite rebellion against the over-200-year-old al-Khalifa dynasty - invaders from the mainland, by the way - has in fact been going on for decades, and includes hundreds of political prisoners tortured in four prisons in and around Manama by Jordanian "advisers", and a regime whose army is mostly composed by Punjabi and Pakistani Baloch soldiers.
It took quite a while - but then that strategic phone call from Washington made sure to the al-Khalifa to at least manage the killing with a little more savvy.
The record of how US foreign policy has nimbly adapted to the great 2011 Arab revolt yields a few lessons. Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak and Bahrain's King Hamad are "moderate" and certainly not "evil"; after all they were and are, respectively, pillars of "stability" in MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa).
On the other hand, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad are really bad, because they are not submissive to Washington's diktats. The moral scale conditioning the US response is directly determined by the degree the dictator/feudal monarch in question is a US satrap.
This explains the instant US revulsion (by the State Department, and only this Wednesday by President Barack Obama himself) at Gaddafi's bombing of his own people, while US corporate media and scores of think-tank analysts scramble to see who comes up with the most elaborate adjectives crucifying Gaddafi. Nothing beats denouncing a dictator who doesn't fit the Washington lackey model.
Meanwhile, on the other side of MENA, there was hardly a peep when Hamad's repression apparatus - partly imported from Saudi Arabia - killed his own citizens at the Pearl roundabout. Well, rehabilitated terrorist Gaddafi has always been a lunatic, while for Bahrain a long mantra applies; Bahrain as "close ally" of the US, "small but strategically valuable nation", home of the 5th Fleet, essential to ensure the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, bulwark against Iran, etc.
Anyway, even after the massacre, Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the largest, opposition Shi'ite party al-Wefaq, as well as Ebrahim Sharif, leader of the secular party Wa'ad, and Mohammed Mahfood from the Islamic Action Society, have agreed to meet Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa for a monarchy-proposed dialogue.
Husain Abdullah, director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, is not convinced; "I am not sure if the ruling family themselves are serious about any serious dialogue because when you watch the Bahrain TV, you see nothing but sectarian attacks on those who are staying in the Lulu roundabout-square."
For Abdullah, what's in fact happening is "more people openly calling for the regime to be toppled, through peaceful means, and Bahrain to be ruled by the people of Bahrain. In addition, there is a serious call for complete (not partial, which is the case now) civil disobedience in the country to force the ruling family to leave the country in the same manner that took place in Tunisia and Egypt." No wonder the House of Saud is freaking out.
The uprising of Bahrain's 70% Shi'ites, plus quite a few Sunnis - the protest mantra is "No Shi'ite, no Sunni, only Bahraini" - started as a civil rights movement. But the crown prince would better deliver quickly - otherwise this will become a full-blown revolution. For the moment there's a lot of rhetoric about "stability", "calm", "security", "national cohesion" and nothing about serious electoral and constitutional reform.
There are reasons to believe Salman - following Saudi advice - may be trying to pull a Mubarak and make vague promises for a distant future. We all know how it ended up on Tahrir Square.
The protesters started asking for an elected prime minister, a constitutional monarchy, and an end to discrimination against Shi'ites. Now Matar Ibrahim, one of 18 Shi'ite members of parliament, says the gap between the demonstrators at the Pearl roundabout and the official political opposition talking to the crown prince has become an abyss. The top rallying call around the Pearl roundabout has become "Down, Down Khalifa."
Thousands of workers at the huge Alba aluminum plant have already made sure that a very powerful industrial and trade union movement backs the mostly Shi'ite protesters. The head of the Alba trade union, Ali Bin Ali - who happens to be a Sunni - has already warned that they could go on strike at any moment.
We want our social rights
Were peaceful, democratic regime change happen in Bahrain, the mega-losers would be Saudi Arabia and the US.
Bahrain is a classic case of the US empire of bases colluding with an unsavory feudal monarchy/dictatorship. Naturally the US Joint Chiefs of Staff favors dictatorship-dictated "order and stability" - as well as old colonial power Britain; the massacres of civilians in Bahrain - and Libya - have been brought to you by the Sandhurst military academy and BAE systems.
King Hamad graduated from the US Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and "takes a leading role in directing Bahrain's security policy", according to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable. He was defense minister from 1971 to 1988 and is a big fan of US heavy weaponry.
The "very Western in his approach" crown prince for his part is a graduate of a US Defense Department high school in Bahrain and the American University in Washington. Translation; two Pentagon-minded vassals are in charge of delivering democratic reforms to Bahrain.
International banking center Bahrain - with a gross domestic product per capita just under $20,000 - is also very high, alongside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in the scale of wealthy oligarchies based on slave labor, the proverbial "large pool of migrant workers providing cheap labor". It has spent a fortune promoting itself as "Business Friendly Bahrain". Last week it was more like "Bullet-friendly Bahrain".
The great 2011 Arab revolt, for all its specific reasons in different countries, is definitely not about religion (as Mubarak, Gaddafi and Hamad have claimed) - but essentially working class unrest directly provoked by the global crisis of capitalism.
Clash of civilizations, end of history, Islamophobia and other silly concepts are dead and buried. People want their social rights, and to navigate the waters of political democracy and social democracy. In this sense the Arab street is now the vanguard of the whole world. If the al-Khalifa don't get it, they are bound to go down.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.