January 28, 2006

the great equalizer

What a busy fortnight it was for obituary writers, eulogizing poets and papers-filled advertisers of solace and consolation.

missed opportunity

It all started on a tragic note by the loss of a young charming prince behind the driving wheel that left his father, the King, deeply shattered. He felt it– as it was reported- partly his fault as he had called shortly before the incident on his son to hurry to join them for dinner at the garden. There was a genuine air of sympathy, dampened only by a matter of misplaced protocol. Someone saw fit that the principal recipient of consolation, is a head of state nonetheless, and must be available in a different palace to receive arriving foreign dignitaries. There, he admirably kept his complete composure and regalia, while many commoner islanders who converged upon the other announced palace were received by the deceased prince’s grand uncle and a brother. Nothing personal against one of them, but many amongst those who made the distance were keen on expressing their sympathy by shaking the hand of the very grieving father, not someone’s else. It was Protocol 1, people 0.

This missed opportunity was followed by another. A well placed group asked for a mosque to be built in memory and name of the deceased youth. Might it not be a better idea if it were a permanent national campaign to tackle speed or juvenile driving, spearheaded by no less than the King himself? One that will see him address the young drivers frankly and tell them that the life of each and every one of them is dear to all of us, and that the formula one event was meant to spin-off the island’s economic indicators – and not its mortality rate- upward.

The state media also missed an opportunity to bring a thaw to the very frozen gulf between the rulers and the ruled, as the TV coverage focused on showing who amongst foreign dignitaries attended or cabled, and not in the sentiments of the average man and woman of the street. Not to mention the missed occasion to introduce to us the other affected side of the family, especially to folks like me who didn’t know – had it not been for a couple of nabati poems- that the deceased prince carried the name of his maternal grand father, a brave and generous chief, and an emir in his own right of a sub-branch of the Bani Murra tribe, and a present commander of the 40th Regiment of the Saudi National Guard, the bedrock providing stability for our neighbourly vast Kingdom. He was dispatched with a force of 800 in the 60’s to Najran to defend the southern frontier against any advance by the combined forces of Egyptians and Yemeni Republicans and remained five years there until his mission ended with the breakout of the 1967 war. He also was on top of a force near Al-Khafji defending the northern frontiers during Operation Desert Storm of 1991. The 40th regiment, composed of the same tribe members and has Bgaig as its base, today proudly assumes the protection burden of a significant chunk of oil installations, notably pipelines pumps, in the Eastern Province. Some years ago, there was a fiercely but brotherly debate between another tribe – which happens to be the maternal uncles of another set of princely sons of our first family- and the Bani Murra – who once saw action on this island defending one branch of the ruling family against another circa 1850’s- as to who of the two had more area of Eastern Arabia under its effective control. This self-serving debate notwithstanding, many islanders will be content in the knowledge that both of these valiant tribes are now serving the higher interest of the country through high ranking officers at the BDF and securing it with a web of alliances that pledges allegiance and total –but not altogether undivided- loyalty to the crown and its blood-related ruling family.

spontaneous Kuwait

BTV was continuing with its wall to wall holy recitations when another piece of sad news came knocking, the demise of Sheikh Jaber of Kuwait. This stalwart of an Emir who started his reign with lukewarm popularity, and dissolved the parliament twice, soon secured his place in his people’s hearts and destiny as he descended from the plane to kiss the soil of his beloved Kuwait upon its liberation, an indelible image of moment of a nation's rare return from a near death experience. The grief of Kuwaitis was genuine, as their TV rose to the occasion with uncharacteristically human touch. Led by familiar and trusted Kuwaiti anchors, it devoted prime time to first hand accounts of ordinary and not so ordinary Kuwaitis about their personal stories with the late Emir. There was this well regarded Kuwaiti preacher in Africa who spoke – your reservations and mine about proselytizing to the poor and in general aside - about how the late Emir gave him sums to build schools, libraries and clinics to African tribes, and insisted on keeping it private it and saying “your projects are my projects”. An education lady described how the Emir leveled down to compare and discuss the grades of martyrs’ sons and daughters annually with them. An elderly classmate described how the very young Emir along with him and other 5 pupils cried and sobbed after receiving a heavy beating by way of punishment at the hand of an Arab teacher in primary school. The star appearance was for a young son of the Emir, who talked of how his father used to drive them and stopped at every red-light sign and waited his turn at every roundabout, and told him never to make a distinction between a Shiite and a Sunni or a citizen and non-citizen amongst the students of the public school he sent him to. We know we have a problem when Kuwait beats us on spontaneity to nil and naught.

dem-occ-ratic change

The one story that captured the headlines of almost every grand daily of the world yesterday seemed to be nothing but an obituary piece of Fatah pushed to front page, in the wake of its defeat to Hamas at the hand of another greatly humbling equalizer of sort: the ballot box. Has Fatah finally caught up with its irreversible Hatf?

From a movement that garnered a revered iconic status attained by no other in the 60’s and 70’s, to one that walks and breathes like the quintessential Arab regime: grand scale corruption, incompetent authoritarianism, subcontracting for the occupier, and worse. How did this descent happen? Was it simply the result of an extremely successful “co-opt & contain” policy? Or the fall that follows the forbidden fruit of Authority?

On the other shoe, you have Hamas, with origin in the oldest pan-Islamic resurgence movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, scoring the most dramatic legislative upset in the history of the Jamaa anywhere. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned and persecuted in an Arab republic of Egypt, surging to power – granted it is subliminal power- in Israeli occupied territories? And under the watchful eye of Israel, the US and EU? How in good Al-Banna’s name did that happen?

Welcome to dem-occ-ratic times in the Greater Middle East. As Arab governments conduct their own gradual demockratizing (copyright to SBG) experiments, non-Arab powers are not that far behind with their own occupation-sandwiched democcractic steps. But unlike phase I in Iraq, Al-Quds Al-Arabi did not howl at it as the puppet toy of the occupier, but saw phase II as a true and celebrated testimony to the will of an undaunted people. And true and celebrated indeed it is. The Palestinian people marched to vote-in people they thought they can trust, and to vote-out blackmail attempts by foreign circles, who clearly were caught off guard by the outcome, although not very displeased with it either. They now have leverage over the new comers to the process, just like they had on the outgoing ones. The opportunity to be in the limelight, received, hoteled and dined in grand official style, a far cry from a life at the receiving end of a frequently precise Israeli projectile. One could see Hamas going the Fatah way, but to what sliding angle remains the question.

from Belgrade to Baghdad

As the sun was setting on once heroic Fatah that eventful Thursday, the people of another once-occupied territory, Kosovo, were turning in their hundreds of thousands for the funeral of a national hero of their own: Ibrahim Rugova, the intellectual who was the reflective face of his people’s struggle to break away from the yoke of a genocidal regime, and later was elected president of this UN-administered province. That reminded a friend of a conversation he had with another friend from amongst ex-Belgrade Arabs, whether his group foresaw, sensed or forewarned of the level of hostility and hatred harboured by some Serbian circles towards Bosnian Muslims and Ethnic Albanian Kosovars (and Croats) that led to an impending doom in former Yugoslavia in the 90’s. His response was a tirade against the agents and fifth columnists who pave the way for American imperialist designs in the Balkan. The friend protested “But there was deportation of tens of thousands of Kosovars, and ethnic cleansing and mass graves?” . “Do you believe the exaggerated claims of the media, my friend?” he retorted, “Or men like Ibrahim Rugova, who only dreamed of being parachuted to power under American and Nato air strikes?” .

These days, as our newspapers are lettered and littered by references to a whole class of Iraqis – whose people lived through a holocaust of their own- as nothing but collaborators who arrived on American and British tanks, we remember Ibrahim Rugova.


At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Mahmood Al-Yousif said...

Our organs, BRTC that is, seems to continuously revel in missed opportunities and the blame I think is not totally the royal's fault, although they do share in that particular failure. I find that BRTC, because of perceived chains, do not take any initiative. I don't think they ever did.

Unless the airwaves are privatised and let creativity fly, we will continue to waste more opportunities to shine, and paradoxically, to create a good affinity between the rulers and the ruled.

Subliminal things go a lot farther than hundreds of unneeded billboards and pages upon pages of newspaper ads.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous chanad said...

Speaking about the BRTC, does anyone know anything about Shaikh Khalifa bin Abdullah who is tipped to take over as its new chief? But given his surname I assume that we shouldn't expect the removal of the BRTC's "perceived chains" any time soon, is that right?

At 4:51 PM, Blogger MR said...

Mahmood, i don't share your optimism that privatizing the airwaves will do the trick, given the larger context of state's control of one's way to air and private purse. (They even cowed Al-Jazeera).

Chanad, the sub-reliable elaph dot com was reporting yesterday that the outgoing Minister of Information is so far delaying to sign on to a P.M. decision of Jan 21 to appoint the aforementioned gentleman to the top post at BRTC. A Kingdom's first. (http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/Politics/2006/1/123898.htm)

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Mahmood Al-Yousif said...

On political "heavy issues" yes, I agree that it is in their vested interest to have complete and unfettered control over the airwaves and print. However, they must also realise that any television and radio station can happily exist anywhere else airing content to this region without any interference from any ruling family in this area of the world.

Therefore it behoves them to release those shackles and they might, just might, benefit a lot more than what they will lose.

Is there the political will to recognise that fact though? That's probably the most important question.

I am more optimistic that you are in this MR, but we are both in the pessimistic scale still!

At 9:32 PM, Anonymous chanad said...

I would agree with Mahmood on the privatization issue. A privatized BRTC would probably not touch sensitive local issues, but at least the quality of programming on non-sensitive issues will become much better. I'd like to see some good programmes about the local culture and some better homegrown entertainment shows.

But the real question is whether any of the local entrepeneurs believe that they can make it profitable for them. I think it could be very profitable, but it would be a risk for the investors.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger MR said...

I'm of the outdated school with bias toward keeping a nation's evening news and her electronic town-hall away from private ownership. But I may be confounding myself here. A skeptic might argue that things are in private hands already (and with the new head, family-managed as well). So what you're advocating is in fact a sort of de-privatization (a family business a la Nass, Jawad going public.) A definitely positive move, that will move things in the only possible way: up.

It would have been interesting to contrast the coverage of the crisis by the by both the private Alrai TV and the official KTV, but the former completely escaped my dial and thought.


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