Thinking of my post yesterday about oligarchy and meritocracy made me go back and do some uncharacteristic critical rereading of its general topic.
If you read a list of ministers in any Gulf GCC state, one fact stands out: the most important and most powerful public positions are almost always taken by members of the ruling families. That is often cited as a gateway to corruption. In most cases it is true, as I have pointed out in some examples here.
The issue of regime security is an important factor why security and armed forces are kept ‘within the family’. But in some of these tribal societies the issue is more complicated by two divisive factors which create some support for this concentration of power:
- Tribalism: tribalism is rampant in the region, as is tribal nepotism. Tribal ministers or other high officials who are not from ruling families tend to create their own corruption in some of the Gulf states. Any tribal cabinet minister or high official worth his salt will usually tend to favor members of his own tribe. In some of these countries a minister of oil (for example) from Tribe X will literally stuff his ministry and its subsidiary companies with his own tribal kin. A minister of finance from Tribe Y will do the same. Ditto for ministers and directors of various service ministries and departments. One can see it just from a list of heads of departments and the concentration of employees.
All that creates suspicion and insecurity among other non-tribal or minority members of society.
- Sectarianism: members of minority sects tend to fear that a minister from a particular majority sect will favor members of his own sect. Members of a majority sect will also fear that a minister from a minority sect will favor his own.
Hence there are specific cases where large swathes of society prefer a minister from the ruling family to another from among the ruled. Especially if the alternative is someone from another specific sect (or tribe). Members of ruling dynasties are often deemed relatively more neutral and seem more like arbitrator of society than others. Even if they also often abuse, misuse, and mismanage the resources. This attitude is especially true among ethnic and religious and tribal minorities. This is quite clear in one particular GCC state where most opposition political leaders and many members of the political opposition are from one large tribe (plus another tribe) and from among extreme sectarian Islamists. It has very few members of the minority sect supporting it. I have written on this particular case before.
Of course that is not true in all cases: in some Gulf and Arabian Peninsula states, in two GCC kingdoms in particular, members of the ruling oligarchy are as tribal and sectarian as anyone else, if not more. And they beat everyone else in corruption.
It is a tough choice for some, stoked by fear, a choice between the frying pan and the fire……..
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
“All is fair in war, nothing is fair in love“ Unsaid Wahhabi saying
“War is Deception“ Hadith
The GCC opposition groups of the Gulf states, such as they are, have reacted in interesting ways to the war on Yemen:
- The Saudis have different group that can fall under opposition or reformist categories. The extreme Wahhabi opposition, those who support Al Qaeda and ISIS, have the attitude that “better late than never”. They are strongly for the attack on Yemen, just as they pray for an Israeli or American or Vulcan attack on Iran (to them all is fair in war, if not in love). Others of the opposition who are not so-extreme-Wahhabi are apparently also for the attack. Or most of them like being silent.
- The same seems to be the case with the Kuwaiti opposition, many of whose factions are under control or Salafi, Muslim Brotherhood, and reactionary tribal elements. Even the more quasi-liberal wing of it is Wahhabi-ized to the extent that they strongly hint at support for the attack on Yemen. They also try to deceptively and hypocritically fudge the issue, deliberately calling it the “Houthi war” rather than the “Yemen war“. Which falls within the Saudi narrative, which is how they look at almost all regional and international issues. They are also strongly against the Bahrain uprising. It is largely sectarian, but then the Shi’as are the same but on the other side. The Shi’as are mostly against this war on Yemen and the Houthis.
- The UAE doesn’t have any opposition, as far as the Ruling Brothers can tell us. Nor does Qatar. As for Bahrain, well, it is the ultimate Me-TOO state. Whatever the Saudis do is fine by them.
- Oman seems to be the sanest GCC country these days, and the most independent in decision-making. They would have nothing to do with this war on Yemen.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
“Bahrain witnessed mass pro-democracy protests against the royal family of King Hamad Al-Khalifa in February 2011 before authorities, backed by neighboring countries, crushed the uprising. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations…………….”
The Bahrain uprising of 2011-14 and its suppression continue to create tensions among the GCC countries and around the Gulf region. Initially, only the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and to a lesser extent Qatar joined the Saudis in sending forces to crush the uprising in 2011. Kuwait, given her own recent experience of foreign invasion and occupation, declined that invitation. That has created a certain amount of tension between certain elements within the two countries.
A certain section of the population in Kuwait, mainly but not exclusively the Shi’as, sympathized with the Bahrain uprising, but the so-called main opposition forces sided firmly with the regime and with the Saudi intervention. By the end of 2011 support for regime or opposition in both Bahrain and Syria were firmly largely based on sectarian factors. This is probably not so surprising, given the strong tribal and Wahhabi and sectarian factors at work.
Now a Shi’a member of the Kuwait parliament has drawn the ire of the Bahrain authorities for making critical statements on the social media. The same assembly member was also reported to support the Syrian Al Assad regime even before the Wahhabis took over the Syrian opposition. Which makes him also somewhat hypocritical. He sparred briefly on Twitter with the corpulent foreign minister of Bahrain (another of the Al Khalifa), and this has displeased the Bahrain potentates. So they reportedly complained to the local authorities about this parliamentarian. The local authorities are making the right polite noises about respecting the brotherly and sisterly and neighborly state and by implication its brotherly and sisterly and neighborly little potentates.
So far, so good. Kuwait is one rare Gulf state were political debate and controversy have been usually a guaranteed part of public life since before independence. So far without much sisterly or brotherly or neighborly interference. But another interesting factor has been the position of the Kuwaiti ‘opposition’. What I would call the tribal Islamist Wahhabi-liberal opposition, because these three strains dominate and lead it.
They have been noisily demanding more rights of free speech in front of the world media, right? No, not so fast. Many of their more prominent members have always supported the repression in Bahrain and the absolute Saudi oligarchy. Now they have sprung again on social media to demand that the government crack down on those who criticize these foreign governments. (Some but not all of their influential members are also sympathizers and supporters of such humanitarian groups as Al-Nusra and ISIS and other assorted cutthroats in Iraq and Syria. But that is another issue).
Cheeky monkeys: they want the same government that they complain is stifling their own right of dissent to ban criticism of foreign governments, albeit sisterly and brotherly and neighborly governments. Can it be the tribal factor? Can it be the Wahhabi factor? Can it be the sectarian factor? Can it be all of the above? Yes, it can………….
It could be hypocrisy and chutzpah, probably on both sides, rolled in one joint and smoked with regional prejudice……….