Despots don’t have a religion

The fact that it is not religion but personal interests of despots and western powers alike that has kept West Asians trapped in dictatorships for almost half a century and more is getting clearer. As in most such things — from illegal squatting on land by pundits or imams alike to serve a larger people through temples or mosques to crude canvassing for votes during elections — it is not religion but individuals exploiting it that are to be held accountable. Unfortunately, it is religion and its innocent adherents who bears the brunt of their actions, with the silent majority becoming helpless bystanders.

A highly informative and hugely insightful article in Foreign Policy puts the dictators of the Persian Gulf in perspective. “As the history of the ruling dynasties of the Gulf monarchies seemingly begins its final chapter, or — in Bahrain’s case — final weeks, it’s worth pausing to consider where these families came from, how they ruled, and who’s who,” writes Christopher M Davidson. “So here’s a short guide to keeping your al-Khalifas straight from your al-Sauds, and avoid mixing up your al-Maktoums and your al-Thanis.” The support these dictatorships have been getting from the West is based on the corporatisation of their oil resources, triggered with the formation of Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO).

“Prospering in the post-imperial, latter part of the 20th century, the various dynasties of the Gulf consolidated their grips on power by establishing extensive social contracts or ‘ruling bargains’ with their citizenry,” the article states. “By receiving a portion of the oil wealth in the form of subsidies, housing, welfare, and easy public-sector employment, the bulk of the indigenous population forwent political participation, while the masses of imported foreign workers enjoyed better salaries than at home, could be deported at any time, and could never aspire to citizenship.” He is probably referring to the huge number of Indians who work in this area and deliver what is known as the remittance economy.

“With this setup, the dynasties were able to shift quietly from their former role as time-honoured tribal leaders to their present-day role as autocrats presiding over closed, censorious societies and police states with appalling human rights records and few structural differences from dictators elsewhere in the pre-2011 Arab world.”

Voices against this support to the dictators have begun to turn loud. “The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and now the unfolding crisis in Libya, are giving Western governments and companies alike pause to reconsider their interactions with authoritarian regimes,” writes Economist Intelligence Unit. “The need to deal with corrupt and repressive governments, or for companies to operate in countries controlled by such regimes, will not go away. But the extraordinary developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) seem to have changed the mood. Governments and companies will, at least for the time being, be more wary about being seen to cultivate ties with unpleasant regimes.”

“It’s time to Sweden Supports Africa’s democracy movements rather than dictators,” wrote Bengt Nilsson in ECADF. “The Social Democrats who now criticise Sweden indirect support for Arab despots propagated for only a year ago for the benefit of the African Union, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the lead. Our one million aid to dictatorships have never been able to improve human rights there. Instead, we must ask ourselves whether assistance will strengthen the power of the dictator and make it harder for the opposition.”

We need to recognise dictators for who they are — individual despots, not religious leaders. We also need to expose, for good, the despots of the west who supported them and allowed an entire people to languish.

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