Even as the TV channels and newspapers across the world are vying with each other to give saturation coverage to the developments in Egypt, in the opinion of many analysts a direct outcome of the transition of power in Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan are in a damage control mode, the littoral states of the Arabian Gulf give one the feeling of being an oasis of calm. There are reasons why, and they are not far to seek.
High population, low per capita incomes, lack of job opportunities, poor educational infrastructure, corruption and repression are among the primary reasons why people anywhere would stand up and protest after a time. Whereas none of these reasons exists – at least not in any appreciable measure – among the Arab Gulf (or Gulf Cooperation Council) countries as they are known. And where on any count there are reasons for the governments to arch their brows, ameliorative measures are taken promptly.
To begin with, the indigenous populations – for whose welfare most of the governments would feel themselves directly responsible – of these states are low with large gaps in the employment sector being filled in by expatriates. Whereas the per capita incomes, even if variable in each state, are high given that they are all oil-rich states even if their output varies.
From the very beginning, when these states began to enjoy the bounty of oil, they have tended to unflinchingly spend in areas which would benefit the populace at large – roads, telecommunications, hospitals, education facilities, housing and so on. In many cases expensive medical treatments abroad are underwritten by the government, some states would give free houses; others would help out with marriage expenses which can be back-breaking for many among the middle class. The state oftentimes functions more like a family which gives little reason to grouse.
Even among these welfare states Bahrain and Kuwait, in that order, stand out as the most open and beneficent. For one thing, while in some states in the Middle East the populace is lately clamouring for rights and reforms, Bahrain is a decade ahead on that road. It introduced a bicameral parliament in 2002 and, unlike Kuwait; women were given voting rights without any debate with the King’s wife personally going out to exhort women to not only vote but also contest. The elections were held again on time – in 2006 and 2010.
As for unemployment, the government of Bahrain set quotas for the private sector and took care to set up facilities to train Bahrainis in skills relevant to the job market and to fund those schemes prudently imposed token levies on business. Housing is another area where the government went about solving the issue systematically by extending loans and building whole townships besides gratuitously renovating dilapidated houses. And the Crown Prince has made it a specialty to promote higher education by offering scholarships to the bright students to study abroad. Within the system means have been created to help out widows, orphans, the elderly and the handicapped – classes who generally find themselves ill-served if not marginalised in many countries.
As for corruption, while it is rare to encounter any cases at the official level, the few that have been exposed have resulted in swift and exemplary judgments creating deterrents for the future.
In other words, if nature has been bounteous to these states their rulers have not shied away from sharing the fruits of fortune with their citizens – a sentiment which does not necessarily follow that benevolent course in all fortunate countries. Nigeria is one example of an oil country which, after the initial flush of public welfare, lost all regard for the same with the junta and the warlords tending to share the spoils.
No wonder, with little to complain by the people, there is never a shadow of dissent on the horizon of these oases of peace in the Arabian Gulf.