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The Arab Winter

The Kingdom of Qatar in the Persian Gulf, ever vigilant in support of democracy, sent  hundreds of soldiers to help Libyan insurgents against the dictator Gaddafi.  It based a squadron of attack aircraft in Crete to bomb Gaddafi’s forces, and its military chief stated that   “Training and communications [were] in Qatari hands. We acted as the link between the rebels and Nato forces.” The assistance attracted much gratitude from Nato, but the price will be continuing support for the Qatar monarchy’s autocratic rule.

Qatar has been to the forefront in condemning Syria for that regime’s appalling treatment of its citizens. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, said the Arab League had decided to enforce “economic and political sanctions,” in order to achieve justice for the people of Syria, which is a most laudable aim.

The disconcerting thing is that the aim smacks strongly of humbug, because few countries in the Arab League know anything of democracy or justice for their own people.  And the rich countries of the Persian Gulf – royal dictatorships one and all – are the most prominent deniers of democracy in the League.

One wonders where Qatar’s humanitarian conscience was in February when in neighboring Bahrain, “hundreds of riot police surrounded the protesters sleeping in a makeshift tent camp in Manama’s Pearl Square. The security forces stormed the camp, launching an attack that killed at least four protesters, some of whom were reportedly shot in their sleep with shotgun rounds. Thousands of Bahraini citizens gathered in the square on February 15  to push their demands for a more representative political system and an end to official corruption.”

The Arab League is “calling for the [Syrian] regime to halt its attacks on protesters, pull tanks and armored vehicles out of cities, release political prisoners, and allow journalists and rights groups into the country.”  But what happened when Bahrain’s monarch was presented with similar protests?  As the New York Times recorded, “2000 troops — 1,200 from Saudi Arabia and 800 from the United Arab Emirates — entered Bahrain as part of a force operating under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-nation regional coalition of Sunni rulers that has grown increasingly anxious over the sustained challenge to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.”  There was not a word from any Arab country about halting attacks on protesters, as they are demanding in Syria.

Don’t get me wrong:  what is happening in Syria is dreadful, and the evil butcher Assad should be deposed because he is not fit to rule.  But what is wrong is the posture of the Arab states and their fawning Western backers who daren’t bleat a word in criticism of a bunch of two-faced, oil-rich, decadent autocracies. (The GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – bought US weapons costing $22 billion from 2005 to 2009. The Saudis alone have a current deal for $60 billion.)

These countries have no intention of establishing democracy for themselves. Free voting would destroy dynastic power, which will not be permitted under any circumstances.  Take Qatar whose ruler (and defense minister) is Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.  According to his official biography, His Majesty is a man of decided talent, in that he  “Joined the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and graduated in July 1971. Joined the Qatari Armed Forces in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was appointed Commander of the first Mobile Regiment, now named: Hamad Mobile regiment. He was then promoted to the rank of Major General and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.”  My goodness, what a dazzling career.  Even Napoleon did time as a lieutenant (7 years, to be exact), before being promoted to captain (although Gaddafi was a colonel at 29). One wonders how His Majesty found time for his three wives and 24 children.

But the al Thani meteoric rise is not exceptional in a society in which the prime minister (and foreign minister) is Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani, the interior minister is Abdullah bin Khalid Al Thani, the minister for communications is Ahmad bin Nasir Al Thani, the municipal affairs minister is Abdul Al-Rahman bin Khalifa bin Abd al-Aziz Al Thani, the minister of business . . . .   Well, you get the message.  But this doesn’t prevent His Excellency Sheikh Jabor Bin Yusef Bin Jassim Al Thani, a Director of Sky Petroleum in Texas, from pronouncing that  “We believe in democracy, we believe in freedom, we believe in dialogue, and we believe in that for the entire region.”  Yeah, right, Your Excellency.

Here is an example of the region’s belief in freedom and dialogue:

Dr Rula al-Saffar, 48, head of the Bahrain Nursing Society, told Human Rights Watch “I was handcuffed and blindfolded [and] interrogated for seven days. The interrogations started at 3:30 pm and went on until 5 or 6 a.m. the next day. I was electrocuted in my face and my head. They said, “We are going to rape you.”  She and other victims had committed the crime of giving medical treatment to demonstrators for justice who had been shot by police.

Support for democracy justice and freedom in Bahrain and Qatar is mirrored in neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose royal family also wields total power.  Here’s the take of the US State Department about government in one of America’s closest allies :  “The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and that the Holy Qur’an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Sharia). There are no officially recognized political parties.”

As Human Rights Watch records : “Authorities continue to systematically suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls, eight million foreign workers, and some two million Shia citizens. Each year thousands of people receive unfair trials or are subject to arbitrary detention. Curbs on freedom of association, expression, and movement, as well as a pervasive lack of official accountability, remain serious concerns.”

Democracy, anyone?   I mean, can you imagine living in a society in which it is a crime for a woman to drive a car?  This place has a law to stop women travelling out of the country without “male guardian approval.”  It’s right back in the Fourteenth Century.

In Saudi Arabia, no newspaper, radio and television editor can be appointed without approval of the ruling elite, and it is a crime to publish anything critical of rulers or religious figures. Last month it became the only nation in the world to have beheaded a man for the crime of ‘sorcery,’ for supposedly casting a spell on someone. And this is the most important country in the Arab League, whose spokesman, Sheik Jabor bin Yusef bin Jassim al-Thani, has said  “I am sure the people of the Middle East and other countries will see us [the League] as a model, and they can follow us if they think it is useful.”  Editors and spell-casters, beware.

The overthrow of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak was greeted in the West with the usual ingenuous enthusiasm. But of course the Egyptian army has no intention of allowing anything so dangerous as democracy to gain ground. The revised constitution specifies that the army will not be held to account for any of its activities :  it is to be above the law.  When this was made clear there were demonstrations which were met with savagery.  So what is the Arab League (Headquarters, Cairo) doing or saying about this hideous shambles?  On November 21 its chief urged Egyptians “to work for calm and return to the political process and move forward with the process of democratic change,”  after there had been 20 killed and the scene was of protestors being  “dragged by the hair across the road and police pounding the heads of motionless bodies in the street.”

Egyptian General Mohsen el-Fangari declared that “The aim of what is going on is to shake the backbone of the state, which is the armed forces.”  That is plain enough.  The battle is now between the people and the army – just as it is in Syria. Just as it was in Libya.  And Bahrain.

The Arab League, a farcical organization almost as futile as Nato, is a bunch of humbug nations who are intent on denying democracy to their citizens, determined to maintain feudal monarchs as dictators, and implacably opposed to civilized justice. The League’s posturing about Syria is pathetic but does serve to highlight the harsh fact that most of its member countries are stuck in the Dark Ages and have no intention of ever permitting their citizens to vote for an alternative system of government.  They are heartily endorsed by the prating humbugs of the West who dare not say a word about the dire state of human rights in the Gulf countries but are only too happy to bomb easy targets in support of revolution.

Britain’s foreign secretary, the egregious William Hague, summed things up when he said on November 21, in the middle of Egypt’s riots, that “ We don’t take sides on the intricacies of Egyptian politics.” Quite so: when things get really difficult, morally, the West doesn’t take sides. That’s democratic hypocrisy.

Brian Cloughley’s website is www.beecluff.com

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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