Leading article: Supporting feudalism is a step into the past

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The Independent Culture
THE EMIR of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, dies. His eldest son, Sandhurst-trained and American educated, the 49-year-old Prince Hamad, takes over without a ripple of discontent. We should all be relieved.

Or should we? Just as in Jordan, Britain and America are committed to supporting a royalist succession from the military, with ne'er a nod in the direction of the pluralism and democracy which we are so busily demanding of Iraq. It's a course that suits our purposes in Bahrain, where we need the Gulf bases for our aircraft and our ships. But is it a course that suits the Middle East, and our own long-term interests?

As the price of oil falls, straining the finances even of Saudi Arabia, let alone Bahrain, and as Islamic militancy rises, the feudal ways of absolute rulers are becoming less and less sustainable in the Middle East. Even less defensible in popular eyes are regimes that support the relentless Anglo-American bombing of Iraq - made all the worse by the arbitrary change in the rules of engagement in the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq.

Acclaiming the succession of another pro-Western royal ruler in the Gulf is not an acclamation of the future, but a step back to our colonial past.

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