After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the West nervously waited for similar uprisings in the “Arab Street.” Practically nothing changed in the Arab world in the last 30 years. Yet, since the beginning of 2011, events in the Middle East have been unfolding at a dizzying pace.
We are only in March, and already regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have been overthrown by the peoples’ demonstrations; the uprising in Libya has forced the international community to take military action against Muammar Gadhafi; Yemen is witnessing bloody chaos; Syria is showing signs of serious unrest and Saudi Arabia intervened in Bahrain to crush the opposition.
Welcome to a rapidly changing new Middle East.
So far, none of the peoples’ movements have been directed against the West. It was not “Western imperialism” but a combination of domestic political repression, youth unemployment, heightened expectations and socio-economic deprivation that mobilized Arab masses.
Unfortunately, this positive dynamic may soon come to an end.
In the eyes of many Arabs in the region, a deeply troubling Western double standard is emerging. Many in the region are asking a simple question: Why is the West willing to intervene in Libya, while there is total Western silence about the brutal suppression of dissidents in Bahrain?
The West appears to be quite selective in lending its support to the “Arab Spring.”
As Ramy Khouri, an insightful analyst from Lebanon, warns us: “The lesson that many are drawing is that two distinct standards apply to Arab citizens’ rights. In countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the world will accept or actively support constitutional changes that citizens of those countries demand. In other Arab countries, like Bahrain, the rights of citizens are secondary to wider energy and security needs.”
The fact that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to Bahrain clearly shows that these energy-producing conservative Arab countries are deeply worried about a spillover of unrest into their own countries.
There is also the fear of Iran looming on the horizon. Through its Shiite proxies, Iran can support opposition forces in Yemen and Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority and Yemen a significant Shiite minority. There is therefore a strong undertone of Sunni-Shiite tension behind Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E’s action.