FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Crackdown in Bahrain

The King of Bahrain has declared martial law, giving the military authority to end pro-democracy protests with the backing of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Some 10,000 Bahraini demonstrators marched on the Saudi embassy in the capital, Manama, yesterday to protest against the Saudi intervention, which an opposition statement said amounted to an occupation.

Significant parts of the island kingdom, which has a population of 600,000, remain in the hands of protesters, one of whom was reported to have been killed yesterday by the security services.

Iran has denounced the entry of foreign troops into Bahrain as unacceptable and says that the United States is responsible for Saudi actions, which will have “dangerous consequences”.

As the main Shia power of the Gulf, Iran is sympathetic to the Shia of Bahrain, who make up 70 per cent of the kingdom’s population and have been traditionally discriminated against by the Sunni ruling class. “The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.

Iran denies any involvement in the month-long protests and US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks say that there is no evidence for long-standing Bahraini government claims that the Shia opposition receives support and weapons from Iran. Bahrain has withdrawn its ambassador to Iran for consultations.

Iran claims that the US dragged Saudi Arabia into invading while the Pentagon denies that it had any advance warning of Saudi military intervention. But Bahrain is a vital US ally because it is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the US has been far more supportive of the ruling al-Khalifa family than it was of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. The White House has publicly called on the government of Bahrain to enter a dialogue with the opposition.

The three-month state of emergency hands significant powers to the Bahraini security forces, which are dominated by the Sunni minority. One of the protesters’ complaints is that important jobs go to Sunnis, and that Sunnis from Middle East and South Asian countries are brought in as security men and given citizenship to keep the Shia as second-class citizens. The actual imposition of martial law may not make much difference to the security forces’ powers since Bahrain is an absolute monarchy. But it is probably a sign of action to come, such as driving protesters from the streets by imposing a curfew, banning public meetings and clamping down on the press.

Despite some reports that the protesters planned to reopen a main road to Bahrain’s financial district, metal barricades and piles of sand and rocks still blocked it. At checkpoints near the roundabout, activists, some wearing yellow vests, checked identities and waved cars through. Otherwise the streets were largely empty and shops closed. “We are staying peacefully. Even if they attack,” Ali Mansoor, an activist at the Pearl roundabout, told Reuters. “Saudi Arabia has no right to come to Bahrain. Our problem is with the government not Saudi Arabia.”

In the first sign of resistance to the Saudi force a security official in Saudi Arabia said a Saudi sergeant was shot and killed by a protester yesterday in Manama. No other details were immediately provided about the soldier, identified as Sgt Ahmed al-Raddadi.

There are growing signs of division between Shia and Sunni. People were placing rocks, skips, bins and pieces of metal on the road to prevent strangers from entering their neighbourhoods. Sectarian clashes between young men hurling rocks and using knives and clubs have become common. Such fighting broke out in different parts of Bahrain overnight Monday, with Sunnis and Shias trading accusations in the media.

Bahrain University and many schools have closed. An armed gang stormed the printing press of Bahrain’s only opposition newspaper Al Wasat and tried to smash its presses and stop its publication. It was later published using machinery from other papers.

The opposition had begun by demanding civil, legal and political rights, but the rejection of compromise by the royal family and the violence of the security forces has led to an escalation of their demands. On 17 February the police attacked sleeping protesters at the Pearl roundabout and killed at least four of them. Opposition demands became more radical, seeking a constitutional monarchy or even the removal of the King.

A further miscalculation by the authorities on Sunday resulted in riot police attacking protesters near the financial district, provoking a counter-attack by thousands of protesters who drove the police from the streets. That led the royal family to ask Saudi Arabia for help as a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council to which Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman also belong. Bahrain’s crisis now involves all of the Gulf countries.

What is the Gulf co-operation council?

The Gulf Co-operation Council is rather an odd organisation to be deploying troops for the benefit of one of its members. The sight of tanks and armoured personnel carriers crossing the causeway to support the Bahraini government’s state of emergency is a departure from the GCC’s regular work of greasing the Gulf’s oil-rich economies.

The confusion is only compounded by a GCC foreign ministers’ statement just a week ago, which described Colonel Gaddafi as “illegitimate” for using force against his own people in Libya.

Established in 1981 by Saudi Arabia and the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE, the aim of these oil and gas rich kingdoms was to effect “inter-connection between member states in all fields in order to achieve unity between them”, the GCC charter says. Economic and commercial links feature high on its objectives. Sending in troops to quell demonstrations by repressed minorities does not, although its “Peninsula Shield Force” has always allowed for the possibility. Like the EU, which began life as an economic bloc designed to stop Europe’s industrial powers standing on each other’s toes, the GCC’s purpose was to ensure that some of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers did nothing to upset the balance in the region. Like the EU, the region’s laggards – in this case Iraq and Yemen – were not initially invited to the party.

Huge oil revenues, and until the last decade, massive returns from the financial services and property sectors, have ensured the GCC’s importance and relevance, even if the global financial crisis dented the reputations of a number of its members. A GCC military campaign is, however, a venture into the unknown.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

March 26, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How ISIS’s Brutal Project in the Middle East was Finally Overthrown
Joshua Frank
To Celebrate or to Not? The Mueller Question
George Ochenski
The Fox in the Henhouse: Bernhardt at Interior
Thomas Klikauer
Corporate Bullshit
William deBuys
12 Ways to Make Sense of the Border Mess
Robert Fisk
Ardern’s Response to Christchurch has Put Other Leaders to Shame, But Not for Its Compassion Alone
Binoy Kampmark
Disinviting Jordan Peterson: the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge and Approved Ideas
James C. Kennedy
The Poisonous History of Neo-Classical Economics
Jenna Orkin
Quentin Crisp’s Posthumous Book, the Sequel
Elizabeth Keyes
My Russia Hot-Air Balloon
March 25, 2019
Jonathan Cook
Three Lessons for the Left from the Mueller Inquiry
Dave Lindorff
The TSA’s Role as Journalist Harasser and Media ‘Watchdog’
Tanya Golash-Boza – Michael Golash
Epifanio Camacho: a Militant Farmworker Brushed Out of History
Robert Fisk
Don’t Believe the Hype: Here’s Why ISIS Hasn’t Been Defeated
Jack Rasmus
The Capitulation of Jerome Powell and the Fed
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s Moves to the Right
John Feffer
After Trump
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9/11
Dean Baker
The Importance of Kicking Up: Changing Market Structures So the Rich Don’t Get All the Money
Lawrence Wittner
What Democratic Socialism Is and Is Not
Thomas Knapp
Suppressing Discussion Doesn’t Solve the Problem. It is the Problem.
Stephen Cooper
“I’m a Nine-Star General Now”: an Interview with Black Uhuru’s Duckie Simpson
Andrew Moss
Immigration and the Democratic Hopefuls
Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail