In meditation I was reflecting on my time in Muscat. Apart from the school management and some spoilt rich kids it was a pleasant place, and there were some nice drives out to Tiwi etc. Muscat was my first time in the Middle East so it is worth reflecting on oppression. It was 1999- (before 9/11 and the Arab Spring) so the western-imposed pre-conceptions concerned alcohol and repressive lifestyles. By then I wasn’t drinking so alcohol was not an issue – nor was it an issue for colleagues who managed to party at school as and when they felt like it. However there was a blessing – no public drunkenness. What about theft? People would go shopping at the malls, and leave the cars outside with the engine running so that the aircon would still run. So maybe every other person had a hand missing – the myth that theft was stopped because of harsh punishment. There were apparently public executions but I never heard of them. So Muscat was a pleasant place but I never enjoyed the lifestyle. In public men met with men and women met with women, there was not much mixing in public. This felt unnatural to me. The veil was never an issue, in most cases women were more dominant in relationships; the women grew up with the veil and that was it, I suppose. It was a peaceful place.
Except that Oman was the Sultanate of Oman – a dictatorship. I remember sitting with an Arab colleague in a cafe whilst they smoked shisha, again quiet and pleasant. Iyad spoke of the seats as being the problem in the Middle East, and by this he meant the seats of power, the thrones – the dictatorships. So how was this dictatorship reflected in daily life? Was there excessive police presence, security checks? No they are saved for western life. Airport checks – no delays.
I also lived in Bahrain for a year – 2001-2002, and the only sign of violence there was when Israel attacked Palestine and the tanks were mashing up the townships. There were demonstrations outside the US embassy, and I lived with US colleagues and the flats were daubed with Yanks go Home. This was a particularly difficult weekend but then it calmed. At school every day the students would have a demonstration at lunch-time walking around the school demonstration-style peacefully. In class neither I nor my US colleagues experienced any undue aggression. Yet now 10 years later the Arab Spring has taken hold of Bahrain, and the dictatorship backed by the US has been repressive.
What was noticeable about my three years in the Middle East was the presence of cheap labour. Labourers from the Indian sub-continent maintained the roads. School finished at 2 .30, and I would drive down to the beach (20 minutes or so). At the height of the sun (high 40’s) these Indian labourers would be out on the road doing repairs, done at this time of day because the Omanis were at home with the aircon keeping out of the sun. The wages were very low and the Indians lived in crowded townships many people to a room. They did not complain because they earned more money than they had back home and were still able to send money home even though their salaries were low. The presence of Filipina maids was a similar indication. I always felt that I was second-class, as a teacher I was a higher-paid slave. As any employee you are always second-class as a wage-slave but it somehow felt different, perhaps notably with the students who had to be trained to be respectful to teachers as they felt better than the westerners who were teaching them. Most notably on reflection life in both Oman and Bahrain was peaceful despite the dictatorships in both countries.
I never visited the Levant, and knew little of Syria but as Iyad put it the problem there was the seats. Here is an Al Jazeera history of Syria part 1 and part 2. I don’t have a complete grasp of the political stance of Al Jazeera. They definitely would not be critical of the Qatari dictatorship as they are based in Qatar. The clips are critical of the ongoing dictatorships in Syria, as opposed to the positions of RT and Press-tv as Syria, Russia and Iran are allies.
It is interesting to note how the West has responded to the Arab Spring. In Libya they were very quick to support the revolutionary movement, recognition of government from Benghazi was almost instantaneous. In Syria they have been equally quick to be involved although the Syrian freedom-fighters resisted their support for a long time knowing teh devestation it would cause. Yet in Egypt, if not the first perhaps the most notable success of the Arab Spring, the US has supported the dictatorship. When Mubarek was ousted, the influence of the ruling-class inserted a new dictatorship that has then been supported by US weapons to quell the ongoing mass movement demonstrations. What is consistent throughout is not an ideology but the profiteering of the western weapons industries (MIC – Military Industrial Complex) always leaving devestation in their wake.
Whilst the ongoing freedom process is the same my personal sympathy lies more with Latin America, perhaps because of their proximity to the US they are further down the line. Plagiarising the term I consider Venezuela a good example. The term “Threat of a Good Example” came from an Oxfam report written in the early 80’s, although I believe the report had a question mark in the title because they wanted to retain charitable status. The report concerned Nicaragua. Throughout the twentieth century Nicaragua had been a gaming colony of the US. I believe it was the 30’s when Sandino made a stance against the Americans but the puppet regime closed him down. Then in 1979 there was a people’s revolution led by Daniel Ortega calling itself the Sandinistas. The people then introduced health and education programmes, which showed great development. Throughout Central America there was potential for change, a change which would have benefitted the peoples of these countries, rather than having them being US colonies providing cheap raw materials and labour. Throughout the time of the Sandinista government the US supported the contras with both finance and military guidance. These contras were the household guard of the ousted president, Somosa, and were effectively employed as mercenaries to disrupt the normal running of the government. At the same time there was a blockade on trade with Nicaragua, but at that time there was a lifeline as both Cuba and the USSR were willing to trade. However elections came along, and there was an opposition candidiate named Violeta Chamorro. Her platform was very simple. After a decade of sanctions and funding of contras the people were sick of the struggles the US were causing. Chamorro’s platform was that she would be the US puppet in return for the removal of sanctions and the withdrawal of funding for the contras. She won and it was the end of the people’s revolution, and business returned to normal in Central America. “The United States contributed to the 1990 election that brought Violeta Chamorro to power as they allocated $9 million to aid her party and created systems that monitored the electoral process. Additionally, when Chamorro was elected, George H. W. Bush removed the embargo that Ronald Reagan had imposed during Sandinista rule and promised economic aid to the country. Some people in Chamorro’s campaign team were hoping to get $1 billion worth of aid from the United States to help rebuild the country after years of civil war. However, the Bush administration instead gave $300 million to the country in the first year of Chamorro’s presidency, 1990, and $241 million the year after. Given the devastation that Nicaragua had faced, this amount of aid was not enough to make any serious improvement.” [wikipedia (Violeta Chamorro)] It was straightforward, why should every single person have to live their lives for democratic ideals – it is unrealistic, people just want to do their business.
Even though that was the case then Chavez came to power in Venezuela, the people there were sick of US control. In the movie “Beyond Elections”(download torrent – * about my torrents) we can see that many of the genuine grass roots democratic movements of ordinary people were facilitated within Venezuela. With the demise of Chavez, the US saw their chance to stop this good example.
Interference not democracy.