IN the 1960s and 1970s, the open door policy between rulers and the general public in the Gulf region solved all the challenges and problems. There were neither teams of advisors nor writers who conveyed to the rulers whatever suited them, portrayed everything as alright and that everything about the people was perfect.
I based my idea on this premise, starting from my interview with the Shah of Iran in the 1970s.
At the time, the Shah spoke about his 30-year development plan, stating that: “We are working on a plan that would start this year and continue until the year 2000 through which Iran will become an advanced industrial country, as well as a commercial and industrial hub in the region. The plan is already in motion.”
I asked him: “Is the 30-year plan not too long for your people to wait? Would it not be better for the development of your country if you could mingle with people, listen to their opinion, feel their pain and prevent them from being bored due to the duration of the plan?
“Usually, countries lay down a five-year development plan such that citizens can feel its effect immediately. Would the Iranians endure these years of paying taxes and fees without feeling the effect of any positive development?”
I did not get a response from Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. I believe he did not like the question.
After that, I went to Jordan’s capital, Amman, where I met the then King of Jordan, Hussein bin Talal. During our talk, I mentioned to him the Shah’s interview and commented: “The actual crisis of the Shah is that he is detached from his people. He is satisfied with the reports he gets and that is a big mistake. I advised him to listen to his people rather than read the reports …”
Years passed till I met Pahlavi in 1978. He seemed against the demonstrations in his country. “What do they want?” he enquired arrogantly, expressing fury over the internal conditions. I then reminded him about what he said eight years back about the importance of communicating with the people and adopting the open door policy which we tried in the Gulf. I reminded him that he said this policy enabled the Gulf to avoid many crises. Nevertheless, the wind went against what the Shah desired; and eventually, the Iranians revolted against him and removed him from power.
The separation of Pahlavi from reality is being repeated today in Tehran. Instead of the Shah, there are tens of crowned Shahs under the title ‘revolutionary governance’. The ongoing demonstrations in Iranian cities reveal that the moment of truth has come close to the Mullah regime. What I want to stress here is the result of separation from reality. Since history is full of lessons, states derive solutions to their own problems from the experiences of other countries in order not to fall into the trap that they sometimes proudly refuse to admit.
The Arab world is witnessing four popular revolutions at present. Each of these revolutions has its own reasons which prompted the people to demonstrate on the streets and in public squares.
In Algeria, the rulers turned into semi-gods. They refused to listen to the voice of the people, so they are not satisfied with the attempts of the transitional authority to add some makeup to the regime. This is the reason why the demonstrations in Algeria have not calmed down since February.
In Sudan, the people are not satisfied with removing Al-Basheer and sending him to jail. They still impose their conditions on the transitional government while the economic situation is deteriorating.
Iraq witnesses a sweeping revolution which started its third month although the isolated government in the Green Zone keeps on facing demonstrations with shooting, committing massacres against innocent citizens and echoing the rejected speech.
The situation in Lebanon is not different from that of the abovementioned countries. The main difference is that the security authorities – the Army in particular, did not submit to the guardian authority which Hezbollah practices over the rest of the political bodies, so the revolution in Lebanon did not turn bloody. However, it pushed the economy to the brink of collapse. Due to the fact that isolation from reality prevented politicians from hearing the people’s voices, the politicians in the parliament still exhibit luxurious and selective attitudes and impose their conditions in a bid to form a national rescue government to put an end to the deteriorating living conditions.
All that happened in those countries were natural results of the insolent governments, close door policy played by their leaders, double standard and diverse heads in government administration. This is in addition to the guardians of the regimes that specify bases of State policies.
An example of this is the situation in Lebanon where Hassan Nasrallah comes out of his bunker to public squares addressing people arrogantly on television as if they were sheep. He dictates for the officials while he does not hold any government position except that he regards himself as the spiritual leader of the regime.
Those countries would not have fallen into disasters afflicting them now if only the officials listened to their citizens. They did not stop looting billions and siphoning them abroad as if their countries are mere opportunities for their illicit enrichment. They are gangsters, so people took to the streets to get out of the massive deteriorating situation they found themselves in, because hunger does not know political identity and a hungry man is not patient.
The facts that we have presented are enough examples for all leaders, especially in the GCC countries, because they contain virtuous practices capable of rescuing countries from serious crises. Do not abandon them, do not create glass partitions between you and your subjects, and do not live inside ivory towers where you can see only the people your advisors want you to see.
If cassettes could do what it did to Shah in the 1970s, then the social media sites can do far better today. Therefore, it is mandatory to listen to the people’s voices and go out to see them. These people accepted you as their leaders for hundreds of years while exchanging loyalty and love with you.
We urge our leaders to study very well the causes of revolutions in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon. They are all useful lessons that should not be overlooked and this is the reason why the policy of listening to advisors must stop. You should increase the number of diwaniyas open to all citizens, where there will be no partition between leaders and their subjects. This is how you thwart the efforts of spoilers in these blessed countries to guarantee the success of your development plans and protect your countries.
Oh Gulf leaders, a straw can finally break the back of the camel and many straws have broken the back of some of these countries.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times