Saudi Arabia setting agenda for Bahrain talks
DUBAI (Agencies) — Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a seat at Bahrain’s reconciliation talks, but it is arranging everything in the tiny nation from the tone of debate to the eventual offers on the table.
According to The Associated Press, after four months of pro-democracy protests and brutal crackdowns, Saudi Arabia has become the protector, patron and political gatekeeper for Bahrain’s Al Khalifa monarchy in the Persian Gulf leadership’s front-line fight against the Arab Spring.
How Bahrain’s rulers approach the talks — whose first official session is scheduled for Tuesday — largely depends on how far the occupier, Saudi Arabia, is willing to allow concessions on its tiny neighbor. For the powerful Saudi royal family and its Persian Gulf partners, Bahrain represents a line that cannot be crossed.
Any setbacks by Bahrain’s 200-year-old ruling Al Khalifa dynasty is considered a threat to all monarchs and sheiks in the Persian Gulf — the states anchored by Saudi Arabia.
“Bahrain is crucial to Saudi national interest and Riyadh will provide it with all they have to show they are committed to preserving the rule of the Khalifas,” said Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington.
Bahrain’s Shia Muslims account for about 70 percent of the kingdom’s population, but claim they are the target of systematic discrimination including being effectively blocked from top military and political posts. Their protests in February — inspired by wider Arab uprisings — have been by far the biggest challenge to any Persian Gulf ruler in decades.
Saudi King Abdullah deployed about 1,000 troops to reinforce Bahrain’s monarchy, which launched widespread arrests and martial law-style rule to smother the protests for greater rights.
Dozens of people have been killed so far and many more wounded in the Saudi-backed attacks on demonstrators.
Hundreds, including doctors, nurses, teachers, and students, have also been abducted.
And many doctors and nurses have been tried in military courts on charges of helping anti-regime protesters.
The Saudi king also sent millions of dollars to pull its neighbor’s royals from the brink of bankruptcy and even married off one of his sons to a daughter of the Bahraini monarch.
“It’s a powerful act, the royal wedding,” said Rima Sabban, a Dubai-based sociologist. “It has nothing to do with love or passion. A marriage like that is strictly political.”
“The presence of foreign troops is part of Bahrain’s problem, not the solution,” said Ali Salman, the leader of Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition party, Al Wefaq.
Al Wefaq reluctantly joined the government-designed reconciliation talks while hundreds of protesters are on trial for anti-state crimes and in jail, including eight prominent activists, serving life sentences for their role in protests.
Photo: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah (R) meets with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa after his arrival at Riyadh airport on May 10, 2011. (Reuters photo)
From Tehran News