The Happy Arab News Service

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Democracy Comes to Bahrain . . . At Last

The New York Times

November 27, 2006

Shiite opposition candidates won 16 of the 17 seats they contested in Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Bahrain, the country’s election commission said Sunday.

The opposition now holds 40 percent of the elected Parliament’s 40 seats, with the 17th contested seat to be decided in a runoff on Dec. 2.

But leaders of the predominantly Shiite opposition party, the Wefaq National Islamic Society, said the gains, which were expected, might not translate into much political power. Government loyalists may retain control of much of the remainder of the lower house, depending on the outcome of the runoff. Furthermore, the upper house, which is appointed by King Hamad al-Khalifa, can overrule any act of the lower house. . .


The opposition in Bahrain won 40% of the seats in the lower house. Passed unnoticed because of the current mess in Iraq and Lebanon, this is another sign of the shifting balance of forces in the region. Though in practical terms this is mostly a symbolic victory for Bahrain's long sidelined Shiite community, it's an achievement that the authorities will find hard to reverse. And without a doubt the latest developments do little to allay fears of the Sunni minority ruling the country, as it is watching Iraq descending into a full blown Sunni Shia civil war.

Michael Young was writing recently:

Within the next decade, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also Jordan and Syria, are liable to face considerable instability unless they can reform and become more democratic. To regard the Arab state system as stable in its mediocrity is to misread the recent past. On even the most basic of political issues, namely leadership succession, secular republics have regressed by resorting to dynastic ploys. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has no obvious successor today, and is trying to maneuver so his son can take over from him. In Syria, Hafez Assad had no alternative when his eldest son, Basel, was killed except to pick son number two. The poverty of such choices will only discredit secular nationalist leaders more than they already are, making revolutions, especially Islamic ones, ever more likely.


It is a hard to avoid impression that the region is inching ever closer to the point after which the breakdown of the present political systems and national borders will be inevitable. While the unsustainable political systems are coming under the increasing pressure of the progressively more restless Arab street, it is the huge tensions of unresolved ethnic/religious conflicts and grievances that are the most likely candidate to trigger the regionwide collapse of order. As time passes by these tensions are bound to grow more pronounced and violent, all the more so given how little the current borders and distribution of political power reflect the ethnic reality on the ground. Whether they are secular liberals or Muslim brothers, opposition leaders across the region should know that rocking the boat too hard is risky because of too many sharks lurking below.

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