Industrial focus in Oman; deadlock in Bahrain

Submitted by Matthew on 2 March, 2011 - 10:13

As we go to press on 1 March, street demonstrations in the oil-rich Gulf state of Oman are in their fourth day.

The protests have been centred in the state’s main industrial city, Sohar. Al Jazeera reports: “Hundreds of protesters blocked access to an industrial area that includes the port, a refinery and aluminium factory...

“’We want to see the benefit of our oil wealth distributed evenly to the population’, one protester yelled over a loudhailer near the port”.

Like other despots, the Sultan of Oman has responded by handing out cash but so far refusing to move on democracy. The state is an absolute monarchy, with only an “advisory council”, and all political parties banned.

The Sultan has increased the minimum salaries of private sector workers by 43 per cent; promised 50,000 new government jobs; offered an increase in stipends for students and the unemployed; and replaced six cabinet members.

In Syria, the Assad regime is clamping down even on small demonstrations supporting the people of Libya against Qaddafi. At the same time it is doling out economic concessions. The combination suggests a regime in fear of working-class upheavals.

On 23 February about 100-150 Syrians demonstrated in solidarity with Libya’s struggle against Qaddafi in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. One of them reports: “Seven young people were captured and violently questioned for a few hours. A girl was beaten badly by the riot police... We were chanting peacefully, peacefully but still the police punished us and prevented us from reaching the embassy”.

Reporters Without Borders has published an article condemning the arrest of a number of young Syrians who keep blogs over the last year.

Meanwhile the government has launched a multimillion-dollar social aid fund, and increased heating fuel subsidies for two million public sector employees by 72 per cent.

Mahmood, a Bahraini living in England, spoke to Solidarity

The government will do one of three things.

1. Make tangible concessions, which naturally won’t happen until the government exhausts its capacity to terrorise the population.

2. Allow a prolonged stalemate, make a big fuss about its newfound “tolerance” of dissent in the media, and secretly hope that they’ll get tired or bored.

3. Somehow find or manufacture an excuse and make a bloodbath, depending on how the protesters will behave.

Out of these three scenarios, the latter is the most likely, in my opinion. I’m not very optimistic. The government may make relatively small or symbolic concessions before doing so, but that’s about it.

I say this because Bahrain’s importance is not weighed according to its strategic role alone in the larger framework of US hegemony (which is important enough). The immediate repercussions of a Bahraini victory a few kilometers down the causeway is infinitely more important.

Mostly Shi’as inhabit the Eastern Province. And that is the most important piece of rock on this planet, politically speaking, for is has under it the world’s largest oil fields. The Saudi government would make Gaddafi look like a teddy bear if the Shi’as there get any “funny ideas” and start posing as a real threat.

If pushed enough, the US will permit any means necessary to put a lid on the revolt in the Gulf. Crushing the Bahraini revolt, to Washington, would be seen as a pre-emptive measure.

I’m also not optimistic because the opposition seems to be losing touch with the pragmatic question of what is or isn’t politically feasible in this tiny island. They’re escalating their demands.

I may be wrong because the US may be far weaker than my assessment assumes.

Given its enormous firepower and its virtual military omnipresence in the region, there’s good reason to think that US imperial interests won’t go down without a very nasty fight.

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