Tonight at 9: the revolution will be televised

By Max Calloway

Since we lynched Saddam Hussein, there’s been a dearth of entertaining tyrants gracing our television screens. Sure, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes out once and a while with a new wacky comment about Israel, homosexuals or how Western values lead the pious to worship the flesh in various grotesque rituals, but his shtick is starting to get stale, if not down right predictable. He’s also boring to look at. Same shirt, same blazer, no tie – Ahmadinejad looks like your associate professor who thinks differential equations are a fun way to spend a Friday night.

 But all of a sudden, there’s this guy wearing Italian sun-glasses and camouflage fatigues who looks like North Africa’s Danny Trejo calling himself a “warrior” and stuttering such comic gold as, “Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world,” while he orders bloody massacres of his people. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re talking about the Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya for three decades and Fox News ratings blessing, Muammar Gaddafi.

 Let’s face it, no one really cared about Libya until its population decided to follow the current regional fad of overthrowing its oppressive, semi-totalitarian leaders. Well, that’s not really fair because a lot of countries are doing the same thing and not getting the same media attention. What really makes Libya stick in the headlines is the mix of bloody massacre, social upheaval and a man determined to be more fanatical and quirky than Kim Jong-il – currently No. 1 in the global super-villain list. But as entertaining as this whole debacle is, the media – as per usual – is missing the real story.

 Okay, so, imagine a teeter-totter. On one side is Saudi Arabia, representing its Sunni allies, and on the other Iran and the Shiites. Now, assuming the perspective of the United States, we find our token friends on one side and the playground bully and his gang on the other. Right now the seesaw is – or was, depending on how you look at the whole Egypt thing – relatively balanced. Iran, Hezbollah and Syria caused trouble and played pranks and we gave our buddies slingshots that our mom bought us so they could keep giving us candy on the cheap.

 An important part of the way this whole playground scenario works is that our friend – Saudi Arabia – is secretly bullying all of the other side’s friends by virtue of the playground commandment, “power in numbers.” Less allegorically, this means that in certain countries, Sunni governments aren’t exactly being fair to their Shiite constituents.

 For Saudi Arabia this isn’t much of a problem as their population is primarily Sunni and they only have to contend with a Shiite minority that’s easily swept under the rug. The same cannot be said for Bahrain.

 Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, over the past couple of weeks, Bahrain’s Shiite majority has taken to the streets demanding an end to Sunni rule. Initially met with government-sponsored violence, the hubbub in Bahrain has quieted down to Egyptian level social unrest and so isn’t nearly as entertaining as the Libyan blood bath or Gaddafi’s sunglasses.

 But hold on. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, not to mention that the little gulf country is attached to Saudi Arabia’s eastern, Shiite-and-oil-dense border. So any successful revolution in Bahrain could be taken as a symbolic victory for the historically oppressed Saudi Shiite minority and Iran, et al.

 This isn’t alarmism. I’m not saying that Bahrain is going to be the first piece of the sky to fall on our foreign policy heads and that we should all start panicking because this is Iran’s opening to stage an Islamic takeover of the world – that’s ridiculously stupid and misinformed. When it comes down to it, geo-political developments aren’t as simple as playground grudge analogies.

 That said, it’s undeniable that Bahrain poses a much trickier foreign policy puzzle for the Obama administration than Libya does. Depending on how this scenario plays out, we could witness a complete reversal of U.S.-Saudi relations. The House of Saud is already more than a little ticked off at Obama’s handling of the Egypt issue – they and Mubarak were buddies after all – so the longer Barack Obama puts off taking a stance on Bahrain the better, status quo-wise that is.

 So then what happens if the Bahrain revolt succeeds?

 I’m willing to bet that there’re a lot of people who could do this question justice and would love to be talking heads on our TV screens. The problem is that networks found out televising the revolution boosts ratings – especially when there’s a Gary Oldman-level villain involved.

 Max Calloway is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]