Civilized dictatorship

Civilized Dictatorship

by digby

This is how the civilized people handle these messy situations:

When Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement began its demonstrations in Pearl Square last month, Atif Abdulmalik was supportive. An American-educated investment banker and a member of the Sunni Muslim elite, he favored a constitutional monarchy and increasing opportunities and support for the poorer Shiite majority.

But in the past week or two, the nature of the protest shifted — and so did any hope that demands for change would cross sectarian lines and unite Bahrainis in a cohesive democracy movement. The mainly Shiite demonstrators moved beyond Pearl Square, taking over areas leading to the financial and diplomatic districts of the capital. They closed off streets with makeshift roadblocks and shouted slogans calling for the death of the royal family.

“Twenty-five percent of Bahrain’s G.D.P. comes from banks,” Mr. Abdulmalik said as he sat in the soft Persian Gulf sunshine. “I sympathize with many of the demands of the demonstrators. But no country would allow the takeover of its financial district. The economic future of the country was at stake. What happened this week, as sad as it is, is good.”

To many around the world, the events of the past week — the arrival of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other neighbors, the declaration of martial law, the forceful clearing out of Pearl Square, the military takeover of the main hospital and then the spiteful tearing down of the Pearl monument itself — seem like the brutal work of a desperate autocracy.

But for Sunnis, who make up about a third of the country’s citizenry but hold the main levers of power, it was the only choice of a country facing a rising tide of chaos that imperiled its livelihood and future.

“How can we have a dialogue when they are threatening us?” Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, the foreign minister and a member of the royal family, asked Friday night at a news conference.

Absolutely. No country could allow the takeover of it's financial district. That goes without saying. This sounds like something you could have heard any afternoon on CNBC:
What also troubles Mr. Abdulmalik, the banker, is the way in which Bahrain has been grouped recently in discussions abroad with Libya and Yemen. The elite here think of their country as more like the Persian Gulf’s version of Singapore — a liberal, sophisticated place that is culturally far more open than its neighbors...

“Bahrain has always been open, and we don’t want to see it turned into another Iran,” Ms. Khalifa said. In the nearby cultural center her foundation runs, philosophers, poets and thinkers from around the world have taken part in a weekly lecture program. But the program and others like it have ground to a halt because of the recent troubles; a large Unesco meeting that Bahrain was planning to host has been suddenly moved to Paris.

Much of the push for democratic reform here, as elsewhere in the region, has come from economic hard times. Bahraini supporters of the government note that in this country there is free education, free medical care, heavily subsidized housing as well as no taxes. Budgetary troubles meant home construction was delayed, pushing some of the poor to join the demonstrations.

“The last few years were very difficult because of the financial crisis,” said Mr. Abdulmalik, the banker. “But that crisis was not so bad because we were dealing with facts. In the last month, we have been dealing with emotions. I told the demonstrators, ‘This country is developing, and you will stifle it.’ Something had to be done, and it was.”

Dear me. It appears they staved off the riff raff in the nick of time.

Luckily our friends took care of all that messiness with a swift crackdown. Otherwise this whole thing have gotten embarrassing for the people who matter. (And I think you know who those people are.)