Arab autocrats cling to their thrones with the complicity of secret policemen, but the Gulf states are fighting off the revolutionary winds with cliches.
In a recent energy conference in Doha, delegates exchanged cynical glances when a Qatari official repeatedly spoke about his country’s “strategic vision”. Not just a vision, mark you, but a ‘strategic’ vision.
As the Algerian journalist Akram Belkaid points out, Anglo-Saxon advisers have sold the ‘vision’ idea to rival monarchs whose skyscrapers (Qatar/Kuwait), new cities (Saudi Arabia) , ports (Oman), economic diversification (Dubai/Abu Dhabi), airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways), metros and museums are now an Arab Hadrian’s Wall against insurgent barbarism.
All talk is now of “projects” – worth billions rather than millions – which are “world class” in standard, sprouting amid “emerging markets” which constitute new “hubs” in the region. Belkaid inevitably identifies the language of these “global” hubs – whose local royal flunkies dub themselves “global press officer” on their visiting cards – as English (the language of higher education and journalism in the Gulf); thus international finance will understand how well the Gulf States nurture a “strong economy” with “sustainable development” and “human capital”.
Women in the region are to be “empowered” – though not to the point of emancipation in a patriarchal society – while “labour nationalisation” will put an end to foreign workers (who may be subject to “deportation”, a less pleasant and thus less useful word). “Leisure” is, by the same token, a happier word than “luxury” – ‘leisure’ can be “enjoyed” – and “cultural heritage” must replace “modernity”.
It’s all about “nation building”. This may be hard to accept amid the blood of Syrians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans – even Algerians – but who believes now that the Gulf is really part of the Middle East?