A 19th century voice in the 21st century

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Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi

Sometimes in our life we come across people who live by the old ways of thinking, believing that time has stood still at a certain moment, or that the world around them has never changed. They think that they can respond to people, events and developments in the world with the same mentality that prevailed in the past. This is not particularly strange and we see many examples of it today, especially with political religious groups that aim to take our countries and societies back to the time of the Caliphate and the early periods of Islam. In doing so, they ignore historical facts and human civilisational development. What is really strange, however, is to find Western think tanks, that are supposed to be well-established with solid scientific and research traditions, adopting the same approach and addressing the issues of our region in the 21st century with a 19th century mindset. I came to this conclusion while watching the proceedings of the 15th edition of the regional security conference, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Bahrain, from November 22 to 24, 2019. We should not let these institutions [foreign think tanks] determine our interests and policies, as was the case in the 19th century; rather, this work should be carried out by our people, who best understand our region and its interests. The method the Institute adopted in organising the conference gives specialists in these types of proceedings, and researchers familiar with the operating mechanisms of research institutions, the belief that the Institute has managed this important event, which saw significant political participation, as if it were an all- British affair. It appeared as though Britain was still the Great Britain that controlled the region during the 19th century, imposing its administration over the region and making resolutions on its behalf. Unbalanced representation All of the conference’s public panels, with no exception, were chaired and run by the director general and chief executive of the IISS, alongside a number of other British IISS employees. No one else was given the opportunity to chair or run the conference’s panels, not even experts from the host country itself, which had spared no effort to provide the right resources and conditions to make the conference a success. The same observation can be made of the lecturers and participants in the conference’s panels and proceedings, which were dominated by British figures, particularly retired generals and IISS employees from London, who came to dominate the final panel. Moreover, most non-British participants were from countries that had been British colonies, in addition to a number of other Western officials, particularly from the US Congress. One member of the US Congress who participated in the conference visited the home of Bahraini detainee Nabeel Rajab, to the dismay of many in the host country and a few of the Gulf officials in attendance. How is it possible that we are returning to the 19th century when we were under the hegemony of colonial powers, allowing them to regain control of our affairs in the 21st century, while we possess all the tools of knowledge and advancement…? The conference was described as ‘regional’, mainly concerning the Middle East and Arabian Gulf. –AN