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Professor Reflects On Shaikh Fawaz And Arab Uprisings

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We've been hearing this month about how the events of last year's Arab Spring are playing out around the world. The uprising that began in Bahrain nearly a year ago has been largely suppressed by the country's ruling family.

Ranjit Singh, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, is now using his own ties to the regime to make sense of its response. Singh's interest was trained on Shaikh Fawaz, a sort of minister of information whose job it was to defend the government crackdown. Twenty years ago, he was the Sheik's ghostwriter and found himself surrounded by the young, rich, powerful, and seemingly purposeless members of the Bahrain elite.

"He lived a very wealthy lifestyle," says Singh. "In the house in London, he had a manservant who catered to his needs. He had a number of cars, and he hung out with a retinue of other wealthy, young, Bahraini males, and they would talk about pop music, they would talk about ways to chat up pretty Saudi girls, they would talk about cologne, they would talk all the time about sports."

The young Sheiks seemed blissfully unconcerned with their privilege. The were born into a ruling family and the question of whether or not that family is legitimate in its rule and has legitimate authority is one that's never posed, explained Singh. Whether or not they should be loyal to their own family is probably a question that never occurred in in their mind, he says.

As a young man, Sheik Fawaz never took an interest in his family's politics, and he certainly didn't seem like the kind of person who years later would become a symbol of brutality. And yet, he did.

"His common line as minister of information, as I call him, has been that the government's response was absolutely justified, that is his job, to justify this brutal crackdown on protesters, largely nonviolent protesters, I would note," says Singh.

Singh wonders whether one has to be an evil person to do evil things.

"When I look back at Sheik Fawaz twenty years ago I see someone who was not a sinister person, and to me, the lesson that I draw from that is that you don't have to be sinister to support an authoritarian regime," he says. "And you don't have to be a bad person in order to implement bad policies."

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