When A Privilege Is A Bribe

Copyright © by Len Holman, 10/11/11


  The Saudis think they have it all figured out—and so far, they have done a pretty good job of doing just that.  Arab Spring?  It sends a shiver down the royal family’s backs.  There is nothing a reactionary, long-privileged, ruling class hates more than a truly democratic situation in the country—I mean, what happens if the “wrong” people get elected (see; Hamas election)?  The Saudi royal family is not beloved, but they are feared, and with good reason.  All their armaments are used in defense of their own privilege, with any outside protection left to others—mostly the U.S.  The Saudis are very good at that old sleight-of-hand any politician or political order is good at,  repressing ghe populace in various ways, then they watch how the winds are blowing.  If the masses are restive, give a little—something meaningless—and publicly pat yourself on the back for being enlightened. 

  Take the case of Manal Al-Sharif, a feminist activist, who had herself filmed driving.  Driving!  In The royal kingdom, this is a big no-no.  An unescorted female driving alone?  Although there is nothing in the Saudi legal code which prohibits this, it is not done, by tradition, and it must have sent tremors though the tents and palaces of the Saudi ruling elite, because she was arrested, but not tortured.  She signed a paper saying she wouldn’t do it anymore and was released.  But the sensitive Saudi political apparatus took note and waited.  Then King Addullah recently issued an edict “allowing” woman to nominate candidates for the next set of municipal elections.  He didn’t use the word “vote” but in the Saudi system nominating candidates is tantamount to voting.  It won’t happen in THIS round. But in the NEXT session, whenever THAT will be.  This consultative body has 150 members, about 13 of which are women.  Elections for these councils were was held in 2005—the first time since 1963.  The next round has been delayed repeatedly, though promised at any moment.  The Saudi Minister of Municipality and Rural Affairs declared that woman will not be able  to either run or vote in the elections due to lack of segregated voting facilities.  Remember, at any moment.  Activists in Saudi Arabia are pleased, but they shouldn’t be.  Ask the Bahrainis how excited they were when Saudi national guard troops crossed into Bahrain across the causeway to “help” quell some unrest there.  The Saudis are not alone in their desire to quell “unrest” and they have the intelligence apparatus, weapons and outside help to do it, plus sitting on a huge pool of hydrocarbons to help other states make up their minds about whether to help them, should they need it.  The Saudi promise is there; the expectations are there, but so is the Saudi terror of rocking the royal boat.  It’s Waiing for Godot, Saudi style.  Promise a privilege, but it’s really a bribe to keep the status quo.

  And now we turn to America’s elections, in which the candidates promise the moon, but no one even gets a piece of cheese.  Let me be clear, as our president is very fond of saying, that’s the nature of elections:  The candidate for dog catchers promises that within a month after election, there will not be one stray dog in town.  The Tea Party candidate promises to make America God’s City again.  The prison camp in Cuba is still open, though we were all promised it would be closed by now, with unemployment in this country at eight percent and falling.  A chicken in every pot, but no one’s making any pots because there is no one to buy them.  And who is to blame for all this?  The electorate has always had a hand in this enterprise.  We believe what we want to believe and are told what we desire to hear.  We do not question much, and when we do, it’s to get the answers we already believe to be true.  When the election is over, the crisis past, the momentary tension resolved, a few may question the original promises, but life goes on.

  Our problem is that we believe.  We are the Charlie Browns—sure that Lucy will not move the ball this time.  We even believe the candidates that tell us not to be taken in, that things are a mess and will require hard work.  We are as far from being skeptical of campaign promises as Will Farrell is from winning an Oscar.  And when the promises turn to ashes in the mouth, what do we do?  Blame everyone but ourselves.  When Wall St. is “occupied” it’s not like Egypt of Tunisia or Libya.  We know the cops will keep order and eventually the protesters will—after suitable commentary by every media outlet on the planet—will go back to their brie and wine.  There will be no American Spring because we are very like the Greeks and Romans:  We hate disorder.  We cling to the Golden Mean, and Jefferson alluded to that tendency.  We wait until the last moment—PAST the last moment—until things are so bad we politically spasm, or collapse.  Are we so close that we might spasm?  Sure, we’re already doing that.  Collapse?  Well, that’s another story. 

  “Collapse” means getting away from the Constitution to some.  It means getting away from Christian morality to others.  It means loading the deer rifles and hunkering down for the revolution for others.  Now that the New Jersey governor has decided to keep his pie-in-the-sky promises to himself and the family dog, the rest of the Republican field will re-double its efforts under the guise of making even more outrageous promises, and the election will then come down to Obama’s promises versus Romney’s or someone else’s.  We, as a nation have flirted with promises, some fulfilled, many not, but always there is that larger expectation that at least SOME of the promises made to all of us are well-meant, are real solutions to real problems, are  meant to be carried to fruition.  The women of Saudi Arabia don’t have our brushes with real democracy, but if they ever get on the road, the Saudi government won’t hold public debates on TV; they will do what they always have:  clamp down.  At least they don’t really believe that it isn’t a bribe.


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