The coverage of events in Bahrain by the BBC and Sky is peppered with an almost tangible sense of incredulity and stats to back this sense up.
According to the CIA world factbook, none of the population are below the poverty line, it is, according to Sky the most liberal regime in the gulf. The population have nice houses, access to the internet, schools, healthcare, jobs and a shiny new F1 race track.
Life in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya is not pleasant, so it is entirely understandable that the populations have risen, are rising, or look like they will rise, up against the regimes there. But Bahrain? Why?
Sky have been at pains to point out all day that the majority of the 1.2 million population are Shi'ite, yet the ruling royal family are Sunni. That must be it. It's the middle east, it must all be down to religion, it always is there, it'll be some nutjob with a turban and a raggedy arsed beard shouting a lot.
Despite everything the Bahrainis have, there's one thing they're missing. Freedom. The same thing that is missing all over north Africa and the Gulf. The rest is just dressing, when you have no power, no say over your life, no chance to influence or change your society, then all the nice air conditioned houses and imported German cars don't matter. Sure, they'll delay the inevitable, but it is inevitable. There comes a point when the population will take no more, they will hit back.
How to deal with it?
Well, in Tunisia the authorities thought about it for a while then decided it wasn't worth the effort. In Egypt the army made it perfectly clear whose side they were on and did a good job of doing nothing whilst saying 'don't make me come down there.' In both countries it remains to be seen if the population will get what they want.
In Bahrain the authorities (that is the King, the only authority) have made it perfectly clear that the population can go take a running jump. Shooting at people who are angry only makes them angrier. Shooting at people where the group constitutes women and children will make people absolutely furious. It all depends on which comes first, is it the angry mob saying 'sod this, I'm tired of being shot at', or is it the troops who suddenly realise the people stood in front of them are their mate, brother, sister, father, mother, niece, nephew, grandmother, grandfather and suddenly decide they don't fancy shooting any more, at least not in the direction they've been told to. In a small country like Bahrain, I'm betting the latter comes first. I've always thought the best way to disarm an army in a civil dispute is to march a line of old women up to the troops carrying placards that say 'I'm your Grandmother and I want you to stop this nonsense right now.'
What will be interesting will be the American's response to this. They have a large amount of floating hardware anchored off the coast, they've certainly sold the arms to Bahrain that are now being trained on the population, they (and we) get oil from Bahrain. The King is a good mate to Uncle Sam, but how far will that friendship stretch? When will the concerned noises turn into 'Oh, come on now.' What happens when/if the American public realises that their weapons are fired at people who live under an effective absolute monarchy? What happens if the flow of oil is disrupted? Will America look at the King with such fondness then, especially as the regime seems to go against everything the American constitution stands for? The only difference between Bahrain and Iran is that Bahrain wouldn't drop a shed load of missiles on America given half the chance. It's a big difference, but can a President with a certain public facade to keep up be seen to be supporting the total extermination of free speech, freedom of assembly and shooting of innocent citizens in the street?
Yes, they may have the nice TV, the big sporting events, a comfy bed in a nice house, but all the time you have no say, no freedom, it isn't worth anything. The EU would do well to look at Bahrain over the next few days and take note. It could happen here, very easily, one of our cousins in this brave new world have recent experience and people have longer memories than dictators think.