Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a corrupt Arab nation run by a tight-knit clique that is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East faces a popular uprising by protesters unhappy about political and economic conditions. I happen to be referring to Bahrain, but I could just as easily be referring to Jordan or Yemen, as these three nations are all engaged in the battle of wills between established monarchies with the support of the United States and a popular demonstrators of various types .
In all three nations there is a slightly different flavor to the demonstrations. In Bahrain, for example, the demonstrators are backed by opposition leaders who have boycotted the Bahraini Parliament, security forces have been told to hold back, and there has already been bloodshed in the streets. The small nation is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, and clearly the United States has yet another massive headache on its hand in a region that has provided plenty of them recently. Making matters more complicated is that this nation has a Shi’ite majority population and has long been ruled by a Sunni monarchy, adding religious tensions to the usual economic and political concerns for greater opportunity and justice. To add to the usual corruption of the region Bahrain’s leaders have long granted citizenship to Sunni foreigners from Saudi Arabia or Jordan to seek greater demographic balance with the Shi’ite majority, which still has 70% of the island’s population of 500,000. These Sunni newcomers have been granted jobs in the police force or security forces to help defend the status quo, adding a very explosive element to the protests.
In Jordan, a peaceful, pro-American, and hospitable nation that I have visited personally from Jerash to Aqaba to Medeba to Amman to Petra, Bedouin appear to desire the return of lands they once owned, blocking streets. Jordan, of course, is one of Israel’s few allies in the Middle East, and one of the most pro-American regimes in the whole area, despite a very large Palestinian refugee population of its own.
Likewise, Yemen adds its own flavors, as a long-ruling corrupt dictator is facing not only demands by protesters for greater economic opportunities and democracy but also a long-simmering separatist movement in Aden. Yemen’s President Ali Saleh, seen by the United States as a key leader against a local Al-Quaeda-led insurgency movement, is engaged in desperate diplomacy with the country’s local chiefs, who can either nail his coffin shut or provide him with enough support to allow him to cling on to power and overcome the protests threatening his rule.
The recent overthrow of dictatorships in Egypt  and Tunisia  have convinced the people of the Middle East that everything is in flux and that long dominant regimes (Bahrain’s royal family, for example, has ruled the island for more than 200 years) can be toppled by people power. As these regimes are all basically corrupt, supported by the United States, and ruling over populations with a much less pro-Western nature (except among the non-Palestinians of Jordan) than their rulers, it appears the rest of the world is about to find out what happens when Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa get a taste of “people power” and the chance to flex their political muscle. The answer may not be what we would hope and expect it to be.