By Mohammad Khajouei:
Following a decision passed by the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sent about 10,000 troops accompanied with armed vehicles and other military equipment to Bahrain to allegedly protect the country’s critical buildings and facilities against possible raids by anti-government protestors.
However, everybody knows that foreign troops are not actually supposed to protect security in Bahrain, but are meant to suppress the opposition and control the situation in the country in order to prevent the turmoil from spilling over to other countries across the Persian Gulf; a region which is of vital political and economic importance to western states. Proclamation of three months of emergency state in Bahrain by Hamad bin Issa Al-e Khalifa, the country’s monarch, just one day after the arrival of foreign forces was another proof that this was a complete scheme aimed at repressing protestors in Bahrain.
Ironically, countries which have sent troops to crack down on Bahraini protestors are staunch supporters of the introduction of no-fly zones over Libya in order to prevent repression of the Libyan insurgents by the country’s dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Street protests in Bahrain started more than four weeks ago when protestors gathered at Manana’s Lolo Square which was followed by a sit-in staged by a group of Bahraini protestors in the same place. Most protestors are Bahraini Shias who despite accounting for about 70 percent of the country’s population, have been regularly suppressed by discriminatory policies adopted by the country’s Sunni state. Thus, they have been denied political, social, and even proper economic rights and have been considered “second-grade citizens” by the Bahraini government.
What the Shia majority is looking for is apparently political reforms and a change in the country’s monarchial system in order to ensure respect for the rights of the Shia majority that is ruled by a Sunni minority. Of course, some protestors have also called for the overthrow of the monarchial system and establishment of a democratic state.
Dispatching Saudi forces followed a one-day visit to Bahrain by the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Although the American officials have announced that they were not been consulted before troops were sent out, it would be too naïve to accept those claims. Can one believe that after being surprised by what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, the Americans, who are closely scanning regional developments, have been unable to take a decision in advance of social protests in Bahrain where the Fifth Navy Fleet is based?
• US & Saudi concerns
Bahrain is of special strategic importance to the United States and its fifth naval fleet is also of high significance to Saudi Arabia which neighbors Bahrain and considers it as Riyadh’s backyard. Therefore, any basic change in that country can be a great threat to the interests of both Washington and Riyadh and this is why both countries are now working in tandem. Of course, Washington prefers to hide its true intensions.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are worried that any fundamental change in Bahrain which will give a more powerful role to Shias will also lead to increased regional clout of the Islamic Republic of Iran as the biggest Shiite country in the region which is also not on friendly terms with both Washington and Riyadh.
On the other hand, Washington and Riyadh fear that Bahraini Shia’s unrest will spill over to the neighboring Saudi Arabia and encourage Saudi Shias to launch a similar uprising against the Saudi government. In that case, it would be very hard for both countries to keep the unrest in check. Shias account for about 15 percent of the Saudi population and are also suffering from discriminatory policies. However, they inhabit a very strategic region in east of Saudi Arabia where huge oil reserves exist. As a result, neither the United States is willing to see waves in the global energy markets, nor Saudi Arabia wants social protests within its boundaries. This is why both countries have been acting in concert to draw support from their regional allies and prevent further aggravation of the ongoing crisis in the Persian Gulf.
• Aggravation of crisis
There is no doubt that arrival of foreign forces in Bahrain will not only prove unable to solve the crisis, but also work to aggravate the situation. Although the daunting atmosphere created after the presence of foreign forces and proclamation of state of emergency may temporarily reduce protests, there is no doubt that in the long run, the existing crisis will only become more complicated.
Since Shias account for a majority in Bahrain, any intervention by Sunni states will further widen the existing rifts between Shias and Sunnis both in Bahrain and other regional countries.
On the other hand, presence of foreign forces has transformed Bahrain crisis from a domestic situation to a regional one. As a result and in view of intense rivalries in the Persian Gulf region, the country can easily turn into a ground for regional political competitions which will not be good news for Bahraini people.
Links for Further Reading:
1- What Intervention in Libya Tells us About the Neocon-Liberal Alliance By Stephen Walt: http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/03/21/what_intervention_in_libya_tells_us_about_the_neocon_liberal_alliance
2- US in Libya: Protecting Civilians? A Rebel Army? What? By Robert Dreyfuss: http://www.thenation.com/blog/159377/us-libya-protecting-civilians-rebel-army-what