Monday, March 28, 2011

Cynical Cyclical History

Buffalo Springfield--Something Happening Here

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There are lawyer strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when your always afraid
Step out of line the man come and take you away

You better stop
Hey what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Funny how things stay relevant over time. Context changes, feelings stay the same. The youth have taken to the streets all over the Middle East in the spirit of collective activism for what they hope will be meaningful change. The questions which remains to be seen is whether they get the change they're asking for. Think back to Nasser and the "first" Egyptian revolution. There was indeed a change from monarchy to president, but then not more than thirty years later, the ideals of a people's Egypt had gone to the wayside under the emergency rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Saleh of Yemen, Tunisia's Ben Ali came to power around the same time. Assad's father held power in communist Syria and Qaddafi staged his coup in Libya a decade before. The 60's and 70's was another era of power transition in the Middle East, with leaders acceding their respective "thrones" through strength of arms, and staying there through repression, oppression and depression of various varieties.

We see a similar wave of discontent happening now with the people finding strength in both their numbers and their desperation. It does sound slightly histrionic, but the Middle East is at a crisis point, where the status quo just isn't good enough. I'll call it the "lack of" syndrome. Lack of freedom, lack of domestic opportunities, lack of employment, lack of future, lack of choice, lack of food, lack of self-respect--someone said once when all you've got is nothing, there's a lot to go around. For a long time, there's been a growing amount of nothingness.

I theorize that this nothingness, when taken into conjuction with Arab's natural pride, has lead to a lot of the conflicts that we've seen over the last several decades--or rather maybe the last few thousand years. Throw in the factors of oil, some water, geo-strategic placement in global affairs, power hungry leaders, and a few perceived invasions and boomdeyada! You've got yourself a hotbed, nay, a quagmire of epic proportions.

With all the external disctractions, it's been easy for these leaders to deflect attention from internal problems, especially when throwing money (be it oil money or foreign money) at the problems seems to have kind of worked for a while. But now there are not enough jobs for the masses, but still oodles of money for the rich, and that's just not going down well with the peeps. Can you blame them?

So the cycle of discontent continues. Will there be long-lasting, meaningful change in the direction of legitimate democracy and reform? Or will we see the results of these revolutions being overthrown twenty or thirty years in the future? The people have passed the point of singing songs and carrying signs. Things are going downhill in a hurry. Can we avoid this? Qaddafhi, can you recover your wits long enough to recognize that you're destroying your country? Saleh, can you step down while preserving the stability (tenuous though it is) of your country? Bahrainis, shwaya shwaya. Prove to the world (especially your next door neighbors) that your revolution is legit, and not at the behest or provocation of Iran. Assad, learn from Mubarak and Qaddafhi. You decide which way you want to go forward.

It's an exciting time to be in the Middle East, that's for damn sure. Saudi is hanging in there. Rather than protests, there was a huge street party a couple weekends ago celebrating the king and the lack of protests. My girls are happy because they got their checks from the King this week for being students. But these times, they are a changing. What remains to be seen are the results. Yallah ya shabbab!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Whoa Now

Well well well well well. It's certainly been an exciting month and a half here in the Middle East. Saudi is surrounded on all sides by protests, and rumor has it there will be a Day of Rage here on the 11th of March. We'll see what comes of that. General sentiments here are that Qaddafi is a lunatic murderer who really really needs to go.

This stands in stark contrast to the all out We-Love-King-Abdullah bonanza that took place here last week around this time. The king returned from his recovery hiatus in Morocco to bestow a $35 billion gift upon his people in the form of debt relief, infrastructure, education funding etc. etc. But the Saudis want more. They want a monthly subsidy like the Kuwaitis get. They think that the petrodollars belong to everyone. Not being Saudi, I would settle for a first rate public transportation system...

But Riyadh got it's flag on, lining all the major roads with endless rows of flags. King Abdullah's face was plastered on every available flat surface. Companies would cover their entire building with a huge poster of the King, websites gave thanks for his safe return, and my classes were interrupted so the girls would have a chance to write a letter to their monarch. Saturday we had off thanks to the king's beneficence, and then Sunday there was a presentation to give thanks for his good health, and some little girls did a dance, and a little boy in a thobe and shmagh recited a poem. It actually seemed a little cultish, which was kind of awkward. They do love their leader here.

Which leads me to conclude that protests would be both minimal and quickly dispersed. They don't have a whole lot of tolerance for dissent here, and most people legit like the king. But as we've seen, the status quo has gone right through the window, and things may get surprising.

But, life continues generally as normal (except for a relative increase in news watching). Our second semester has started, and we're off to the races. This semester is much calmer than the last one, so things are going pretty well. Trying to see what we can swing for fun in the sun and make our own entertainment. Grapeleaves on Friday? I think yes!