Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't

Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't

Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't

Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't

Synopsis

As popular uprisings spread across the Middle East, popular wisdom often held that the Gulf States would remain beyond the fray. In Sectarian Gulf, Toby Matthiesen paints a very different picture, offering the first assessment of the Arab Spring across the region. With first-hand accounts of events in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, Matthiesen tells the story of the early protests, and illuminates how the regimes quickly suppressed these movements.

Pitting citizen against citizen, the regimes have warned of an increasing threat from the Shia population. Relations between the Gulf regimes and their Shia citizens have soured to levels as bad as 1979, following the Iranian revolution. Since the crackdown on protesters in Bahrain in mid-March 2011, the "Shia threat" has again become the catchall answer to demands for democratic reform and accountability. While this strategy has ensured regime survival in the short term, Matthiesen warns of the dire consequences this will have-for the social fabric of the Gulf States, for the rise of transnational Islamist networks, and for the future of the Middle East.

Excerpt

The mass protests against authoritarian rule that swept the Arab world in 2011 have changed the Middle East, and perhaps the world, forever. They contributed to the biggest global turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a wave of demonstrations, economic crises, and austerity measures with wide-ranging implications for the future. 2011 was the “year of dreaming dangerously,” a year in which various counter-hegemonic ideologies briefly challenged the capitalist world-system. These protests included the Occupy movement, which took some inspiration from the Arab uprisings, as well as mass protests and strikes all over the globe. It seems as if Arabs, and indeed young people across the world, had been waiting for something to rally around, something that could galvanize protests. The Arab uprisings have reaffirmed the importance of people power, the sense that taking to the streets and demanding change can really make a difference, and that the powerful are so only as long as people believe they are untouchable. For decades, public discourse in the Middle East had been cleansed of actual politics, deals were made in secret, crony ministers or royals—and there are many—could not be criticized. The Arab uprisings changed all that, and a new Arab public sphere emerged in which Arab autocrats could no longer feel safe. But . . .

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