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Gulf Arabs warily eye Tunisia, Egypt revolts

Gulf Arabs warily eye Tunisia, Egypt revolts

Oil wealth prosperity provides cushion, for now; Saudi Arabia's role and stability will be key; Brewing concern among Gulf populace.

February 2, 2011 11:13 by

The question being whispered in some Gulf Arab states that have long thought themselves immune from the type of popular uprising now convulsing Egypt is, “Could it ever happen here?”

As Egypt’s political revolt unfolds and threatens to upend the Arab world’s political status quo, it seems to be business as usual from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia: People commute to work on dusty roads, shop and eat at posh malls. But at home, they are glued to television images of chaos on the streets of Cairo.

Now, after eight days of relentless protests threatening to break the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Gulf states cannot help but wonder how far unrest will spread and how that might impact their own rule.

“Before Egypt I would have been sceptical. With Tunisia, there was the sense it was somehow exceptional in that the lessons did not apply directly to other Arab countries,” said Shadi Hamid, analyst at the Brookings Centre in Doha.

“The lesson here is that if it can happen in Egypt, it can happen anywhere. There was always a sense that the Egyptian regime was more unified and more ruthless, and would somehow find a way to push back, and I think we’ve been proven wrong.”

Analysts mostly agree that Gulf countries are not at serious or immediate risk of revolt, and that could only happen if turmoil spreads first to the wider Arab world in countries such as Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria and Libya.

Jordan’s King Abdullah replaced his prime minister on Tuesday after protests over food prices and poor living conditions. Kazhakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev cast aside a plan that would have him rule unopposed for another decade and called for an early presidential vote.

Yemen and Sudan have also seen anti-government protests.

The massive oil and gas wealth of the Gulf states — comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman — has fuelled a development boom that lifted much of the region into prosperity even as other Arab states struggle to raise living standards.

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