The fever of the Arab Spring Revolution has impacted all Arab states in one form or another. The Arab Gulf states have also experienced some political unrest, especially in Bahrain, where more than 1600 have been taken as prisoners and 40 have been killed. Recently, the United Nations requested the Bahraini government release the political prisoners from jail and warned against the use of violence by authorities. Reports revealed that Bahraini security forces attacked the headquarters of the Shiaa opposition, who constitute more than two thirds of the total population. It is also unfortunate that forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are helping the regime in Bahrain to suppress the opposition.
In Saudi Arabia, a few attempts of protesting were made, but authorities stopped them before they picked up any momentum. In the eastern part of the country, where the Shiaa are concentrated, protests took place, which led to the killing, injuries and jailings of some of the protestors.
It is unfortunate that the major conflict in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is attributed to the discrimination and suppression conducted by the Sunni Muslim authority against the Shiaa Muslims. In Bahrain, more than two thirds of the population belongs to the Shiaa, who are controlled by the Sunni minority. In Saudi Arabia, the Sunni majority are in full control of the Shiaa minority.
The source of the conflict is based on sectarianism. Both countries are run by authoritarian monarchies and there is no room for democracy and/or transparency. Qatar is the third country in the Arab Gulf region that is more open and less suppressive than the others, but the public has been influenced by the fever of the Arab Spring Revolution. Qatar is among the wealthiest in the Arab world because of oil and gas and had its first election for the municipal council. The country is run by Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa, who announced a few months ago an election for a new parliament in 2013. One of the major factors that contributed to the state’s stability is its welfare system.
The United Arab Emirates is also among the wealthiest states because of its oil. The rulers of the UAE have been experiencing some political pressure from Islamist political groups, such as Islah, which means “reform”. The government of the UAE has recently withdrawn its citizenship from 6 religious Islamist activists who are challenging the authority of the oil rich federation.
Al-Islah is an organized political Islamist group whose number has been estimated at around 20,000 members. Their leadership has called on the UAE political leadership to reverse its decision against the six members who signed a petition calling for a democratic election of parliament with an executive.
The al-Islah group has been influenced by the political winds caused by the Arab Spring Revolution and the recent political Islamic victory, especially in Tunisia and Egypt. The political leadership of UAE began to fear the challenge of political Islam and its threats to their tribal legitimate authority.
Abu Dhabi’s vast oil resources have created a welfare state, which in many ways has prevented street riots similar to what happened in some Arab states, especially the ones in nearby Bahrain.
The Emirates are ruled by tribal crown princes with a totally population of more than 4.75 million. However, 75% of them are foreign workers. The transition into some form of democracy is coming. It is a matter of time.
The sixth state in the Gulf region is Oman, which is ruled by Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, who inherited the position from his father. The country is not as rich as others, but it relies on oil revenues and agriculture cultivations for its economy.
So far, Oman ahs been spared the turmoil and political unrest that has plagued some of its neighbors in the Gulf region.
Oman is ruled by an authoritarian monarch who rules by decree. Nevertheless, it is a matter of time before the population of Oman will start demanding freedom and a democratic institution.
Oman, which used to be living in almost total isolation even with its close neighbors, has been removing the social and political barriers as a result of the mass media, tourism, trades and the increasing numbers of educated people. The winds of political change are blowing that will ultimately bring reform.