Democracy forbidden in Gulf, increasing unrest seen

Monday, December 22, 2003< /FONT>

ABU DHABI Gulf Cooperation Council states appear headed for a period of heightened unrest amid the failure to implement democratic reforms in the region.

GCC experts said Al Qaida and related groups were expected to grow stronger in such countries as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Iranian-inspired unrest was also predicted in Bahrain, where power has been concentrated within the Sunni minority.

The failure to develop civil institutions and public interest groups has abandoned the field to violent elements, the experts said. They said democratic opposition remains banned in every one of the six GCC states.

On late Dec. 10, scores of young Muslims rampaged through the streets of Bahrain's capital, Manama, Middle East Newsline reported. The rioters attacked security forces, tourists and destroyed property in the city's entertainment strip during preparations for a flood of Western visitors for the New Year holiday.

So far, the kingdom has refrained from issuing an official statement on the violence.

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"The lack of genuine public participation in the decision-making and the development process led to the marginalization of some groups," Ebtissam Al Katbi, a leading UAE sociologist, said.

Addressing a conference of GCC sociologists in Manama on Dec. 2, Ms. Al Katbi blamed governments in the region for the rise in unrest. She said governments have oppressed their people, suppressed social justice and failed to implement developmental programs.

As a result, Ms. Al Katbi said, young people have been drawn to Islamic insurgency groups. She said youngsters regard violence as the only legitimate outlet in their society.

"Politically, citizens must take part in the government," Ms. Al Katbi said. "Economically, social justice should be the cornerstone of the development process. Socially, the civic society organizations should be strengthened and given the freedom to work without the traditional bureaucratic or tribal restrictions."

GCC officials did not dispute the predictions of increased unrest in the region. They said Arab society has lost control over its young and their penchant for violence.

"The problem of violence among the youth has become the most pressing issue that threaten the stability of our societies," Bahraini Labor Minister Majid Al Alwai said. "We need a strategy to confront extremist and violent tendencies among the youth."

Other GCC experts urged for radical changes in Arab societal norms. Abdul Nabi Al Ekri, a Bahraini sociologist, said tribal societies in Gulf Arab states have produced the seeds of violence and oppression among citizens and by regimes.

"The Arabs may have moved from the desert to modern cities but they still carry the heavy heritage of submission and oppression,"Al Ekri said. "We must to overcome tribal tradition in order to create a modern society that enjoys a healthy relationship between the government and citizens based on the principle that the people are the source of all powers."

Several GCC experts also blamed the United States for increase in unrest in Gulf Arab societies. They said the worst attacks of Al Qaida were conducted since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

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