Politico: The White House is open to the possibility of declaring all of the Arab states attending a Camp David summit “major non-NATO allies,” a designation that makes it easier for the United States to provide financial and military aid, a top U.S. official said Thursday.
The designation stops short of being a mutual defense pact, but a joint statement released later in the day includes a promise from the United States “to use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region, and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and partners.”
“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” Obama told reporters at a news conference at the conclusion of the summit.
From Dubai, Roger Cohen writes: When Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, spoke here of the Arab world’s humiliation by three non-Arab states — Iran, Israel and Turkey — and the way they had, through their “hegemony,” turned Arabs into a “laughingstock,” I asked him what exactly he meant.
His response focused on Iran. This in itself was interesting. Statements from Tehran about Iran calling the shots in several Arab capitals — including Damascus, Baghdad and Sana — had “enraged many of us,” he said, leaving Arabs humiliated that any power “would dare say that.”
As this remark suggests, Iran these days is a greater focus of Arab ire and disquiet than Israel, a country with which many Arab states have aligned but unsayable interests.
Cut to Camp David and President Obama’s attempt to reassure Persian Gulf leaders that the United States can, in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, “do two things at the same time” — that is, conclude a nuclear deal with Shiite Iran and honor its alliances with the Sunni monarchies, whose oil is now of less strategic importance to an America in the midst of an oil boom.
The walk-and-chew-gum American argument is a tough sell because Arab honor and Arab humiliation are in play. That’s why King Salman of Saudi Arabia stayed away from Camp David. That’s why the Saudis started a bombing campaign in Yemen: to stop the Houthis, portrayed in Riyadh as pure Iranian proxies. That’s why much of what you hear these days in Dubai (where many Iranians live and trade) is talk of Obama’s betrayal of the Arabs through infatuation with Iran. [Continue reading…]
Reza Marashi writes: As President Obama hosts leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE on May 13 and 14, he will surely hear a push from them for a White House plan to contain Iran. However, recent candid remarks from Admiral Mike Mullen should cause America to think twice. Going against conventional wisdom in Washington, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said: “[A nuclear deal] would also more fairly rebalance American influence. We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations. Détente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide.”
Let that sink in. The highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces from 2007 to 2011 is essentially saying that America’s long-standing allies in the Middle East are trying to lock it into permanent confrontation with Iran–and into a permanent alliance with countries whose interests and values are increasingly opposed to its own. After the initial shock from Admiral Mullen’s intellectual honesty subsides, one quickly realizes that he is right: Why shouldn’t the U.S. have more options at its disposal to achieve its interests and reduce the threats it faces? For example, after 15 Saudi hijackers attacked the U.S. on September 11th, 2001, American decision-makers did not have the option of being firm with Saudi Arabia. Instead, they were trapped in an alliance precisely because there was no regional alternative that could be leveraged to hold the Saudis accountable. [Continue reading…]
Brian Whitaker writes: This week’s meeting at Camp David between President Obama and leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council is still being described as a “summit”, though it has already slithered some way down from the mountain top. The Sultan of Oman and the president of the UAE are both too ill to attend and will be sending representatives instead. The kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have pulled out too, in a move that is seen as a snub to President Obama. That leaves only Kuwait and Qatar to be represented by their heads of state.
In the US, even before it happens, the meeting has opened up a space for anti-Obama stirring from the political right, especially among opponents of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran. For the purposes of bad-mouthing Obama, the Gulf’s bumbling monarchs are presented as good guys – “determined to take the initiative” in “confronting Iran’s regional expansion” (to quote a briefing paper from the Orient Advisory Group) – against a US president with “a regional policy that no one can define or even understand”.
So the big question – indeed, the only question as far as some commentators are concerned – is what the US can do to reassure the Gulf’s plutocrats that it is still committed to their security.
The irony is that it ought to be the other way round. Given the spread of jihadist activity in the region and beyond, Obama should (but probably won’t) be asking the emirs and their stand-ins for more evidence of a commitment to other countries’ security. It’s all very well to thank them for resisting ISIS and supporting counterterrorism efforts at an international level by sharing intelligence, but in the current situation that is simply not enough. It’s time to start reversing the damage they have caused in the minds of many Muslims.
They should stop promoting sectarian politics and consider how their actions legitimise religious intolerance: the laws that prescribe punishment for apostasy, blasphemy and other kinds of nonconformity, the policies that treat the followers of different faiths (and even different branches of Islam) as inferior beings – in fact, anything that leads people to think it’s right to impose religion by force. Obama should tell them that until they take such a stand, no matter how many bombs they drop, there is virtually no hope of putting an end to jihadist violence.
But don’t hold your breath. It’s far more likely the Americans will send them home with assurances about Iran and arms deals in their pockets. [Continue reading…]
Farea Al-Muslimi writes: For three years, Yemen has been touted as a successful model of international intervention to contain the crisis triggered by the Arab Spring—at least according to the United Nations, various UN Security Council ambassadors, and, most importantly, the UN special adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who today announced his resignation after four years in the job.
But the deteriorating situation of the country, particularly after President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi was ousted by the Zaidi Shia Islamist rebels known as the Houthis in mid-January 2015, has put an end to this rhetoric. And since March 25, when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab and other states launched a military intervention, the situation has worsened considerably.
When Jamal Benomar assumed his position as special envoy in April 2011, Yemen’s then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, knew that he could not hold out for long against the many opposition currents that had converged to overthrow him. This simplified the task of the UN envoy, who — along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states — brokered the implementation of the so-called Gulf Initiative, according to which Saleh would resign and hand power to Hadi, his vice president, in a managed transition. After months of negotiations and despite the intensification of violence, Hadi was finally able to accede to the presidency in February 2012 with considerable international and Yemeni support as part of a transitional process that was not to exceed two years. [Continue reading…]
Abubakr al-Shamahi writes: The Saudi-led airstrikes on rebel targets in Yemen are showcasing Riyadh’s military might. The positions and bases of the Houthis, as well as army units controlled by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, are being pummelled.
But what next? Are air strikes enough on their own? History says otherwise. Unless the push is to merely get concessions from the Houthis and Saleh in any negotiations, which now appears unlikely, the Saudi-led coalition will need forces on the ground to fight.
The obvious choice would be the Yemeni military. Yet this prospect appears to be diminishing by the day. The failure to restructure the military, the immunity given to Saleh for crimes committed during 2011, and even the Saudi decision to get Saleh back into the country, meant that come September 2014, Saleh was able to still maintain enough loyalty in the military to order them to largely step down as the Houthis took Sanaa.
Those units, which include some of the most elite in the army, now continue to advance across the country with the Houthis following closely behind. In response to this, the coalition bombing campaign has targeted the Saleh-controlled military, and military bases up and down Yemen are being destroyed. The consequence? The Yemeni military is being decimated and will not be able to secure such a highly weaponised country should these strikes not end soon. [Continue reading…]
Ian Black writes: Arab governments are watching the endgame of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme with barely-concealed alarm, fearing that the US is bent on a rapprochement with Tehran, not so much at any price, but certainly at the expense of its long-standing Gulf allies.
Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, has made clear its unhappiness with the emerging deal. Still, unlike Israel, which flatly opposes any agreement, Saudi Arabia has adopted a more subtle approach. Adel Jubeir, its ambassador to the US, pledged to wait to see the outcome before criticising it. Jubair also conspicuously refused to rule out the kingdom seeking its own nuclear weapons — a pointed reminder to Barack Obama of the nuclear proliferation risks if his Iran strategy does not succeed.
The Saudis have hinted for years that they would turn to Pakistan if they felt threatened by a nuclear Iran. Last year they displayed their Chinese-made intermediate-range ballistic missiles — capable of reaching Tehran — at a parade attended by the general who controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It was, said the Brookings Institution analyst Bruce Riedel, “ a very calculated signal”. [Continue reading…]
Kenneth M. Pollack writes: The news that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan have launched air strikes against Houthi forces in Yemen should give every American pause. Yes, the Houthis are Shi’a who receive some degree of backing from Iran, but this is a very dangerous escalation that is unlikely to improve the situation in Yemen and risks the stability of Saudi Arabia over the medium to long term. Moreover, the Iranian role has been greatly exaggerated in what is first and foremost a Yemeni civil war.
Even with U.S. assistance, the GCC and its coalition partners lack the capacity to break Houthi ground operations the way that American air power has been able to smash ISIS ground operations in Iraq and Syria. With enough American help, they could certainly inflict some harm on the Houthis, but they are unlikely to be able to materially shift the balance of power. If the airstrikes fail, as seems more likely than not, there is a real danger that these same states will decide to intervene on the ground—and that intervention will be largely composed of Saudi forces.
As I warned in a previous post on Yemen co-authored with the highly-regarded scholar of civil wars, Barbara Walter, a compelling body of scholarly research on civil wars has found that interventions into civil wars on behalf of the losing side rarely produce a rapid, negotiated settlement. Instead, they typically prolong the conflict, producing more death and devastation. Of greatest importance in this case, they also have a bad habit of overstressing the intervening state—especially when that state has limited capabilities and internal problems of its own. [Continue reading…]
Ian Black writes: The commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been working overtime recently, flaunting their achievements across the Middle East and flexing muscles as international negotiations over the country’s nuclear programme enter their critical and perhaps final phase.
On Wednesday it was the turn of Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s most senior officer. “The Islamic revolution is advancing with good speed, its example being the ever-increasing export of the revolution,” he declared. “Not only Palestine and Lebanon acknowledge the influential role of the Islamic Republic but so do the people of Iraq and Syria. They appreciate the nation of Iran.”
Last month a similarly boastful message was delivered by General Qassem Suleimani, who leads the IRGC’s elite Quds force — and who is regularly photographed leading the fightback of Iraqi Shia miltias against the Sunni jihadis of the Islamic State (Isis) as well as against western and Arab-backed rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in southern Syria. “Imperialists and Zionists have admitted defeat at the hands of the Islamic Republic and the resistance movement,” Suleimani said.
Iran’s advances are fuelling alarm in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, where Tehran has been a strategic rival since the days of the Shah, and which now, it is said with dismay, in effect controls four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut and in the last month Sana’a in Yemen – which is uncomfortably close to home. [Continue reading…]
Faisal Al Yafai writes: When one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East holds the largest military exercise in its history, the region and allies would be wise to look beyond the explosions and manoeuvres at the political intent.
Last week’s “Abdullah Sword” military exercises in the north-east of Saudi Arabia brought together 130,000 troops, as well as military jets, helicopters and ships. With the notable exception of Qatar, all the GCC countries were there to observe the exercises, as well as the head of Pakistan’s army.
On the surface, the exercises were timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the accession of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But military movements of this order send messages. But to whom?
The obvious answer is Iran, Saudi’s great regional rival, or one of the three states that the Saudis are most concerned about – Syria, Iraq or Yemen. And it will not have escaped Tehran’s notice that the CSS-2 ballistic missiles that Riyadh paraded for the first time last week can easily reach any part of Iran.
Certainly, a message of strength was being telegraphed to the region. But there was also another one, over the heads of the region, to the United States: if you leave, the region can defend itself. [Continue reading…]
Hassan Hassan writes: For the Arab Gulf states, the war that began in 2003 was the herald of a new relationship with Iraq, a country that had long been ruled by a hostile regime, threatened its neighbours and had briefly subjugated one of them – Kuwait.
But 10 years after the US-led invasion, the picture in Baghdad looks extremely bleak from this side of the Gulf. An Iraq dominated by the pro-Iranian Shia is seen as just as threatening as an Iraq led by the Sunni Saddam Hussein.The mantra in the Gulf is that Baghdad has been handed over to the Iranians on a golden plate. Some even perceive Baghdad’s special relationship with Iran as part of a US grand strategy to pit the countries of the region against each other. Such self-defeating thinking is one reason why Baghdad has been drifting towards Tehran. It is time for the Gulf states to revisit their approach to Iraq.
Gulf states do not welcome the fact that Baghdad will probably always be dominated by Shia politicians. For them, the question is how to subdue Iraq, rather than how to work with it. They also tend to view Iraq’s relationship with Iran through a zero-sum mindset: Baghdad can either be an ally against Iran, or it can be an enemy.
Riyadh does not have meaningful diplomatic representation in Baghdad, despite repeated Iraqi attempts to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf at large. For example, at the beginning of trouble in Syria, Iraq supported almost all Gulf-led Arab resolutions against the Syrian regime; it began to show opposition after the Arab Summit in Baghdad in March of last year, to which few Gulf states sent high-level representation. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have not tried hard enough to resolve outstanding disputes with Iraq, involving borders and prisoners. The Arar border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is still closed, although Riyadh promised last year to open it for trade.
The key to better relationships is, counterintuitively, a stronger and more stable Iraq. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has long sought to weaken Iraq to ensure its own regional standing. Since the Iraq war, Riyadh’s policy has evolved into attempts to contain Baghdad and push it away from Tehran. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.
After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.
In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.
With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.
The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.
For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade — in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.
“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”
Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Saudi Arabia will spend $43 billion on its poorer citizens and religious institutions. Kuwaitis are getting free food for a year. Civil servants in Algeria received a 34 percent pay rise. Desert cities in the United Arab Emirates may soon enjoy uninterrupted electricity.
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members are poised to earn an unprecedented $1 trillion this year, according to the U.S. Energy Department, as the group’s benchmark oil measure exceeded $100 a barrel for the longest period ever. They are promising to plow record amounts into public and social programs after pro-democracy movements overthrew rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and spread to Yemen and Syria.
Unlike past booms, when Abu Dhabi bought English soccer club Manchester City and Qatar acquired a stake in luxury carmaker Porsche SE, Gulf nations pledged $150 billion in additional spending this year on their citizens. They will need to keep U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil at more than $80 a barrel to afford their promises, according to Bank of America Corp.
“A sharp increase in spending to accommodate social pressures has averted potential disquiet over governance in most countries, though in the longer-term economic reforms will be needed to buoy private-sector growth and job creation,” Jean- Michel Saliba, a London-based economist at Bank of America, said in an e-mail Sept. 8. “Without the social spending, Gulf protests would possibly move the nations toward constitutional monarchy.”
Anthony Shadid reports:
The battle began soon after sundown. And for the next six hours, in air heavy with heat and tear gas, phalanxes of police officers in helmets battled scores of youths in ski masks, as customers at a Costa Coffee not far away sat like spectators.
No one won in the clashes, which erupt almost every night in this Persian Gulf state. Five months after the start of a ferocious crackdown against a popular uprising — so sweeping it smacks of apartheidlike repression of Bahrain’s religious majority — many fear that no one can win.
“This is all cutting so deep,” said Abdulnabi Alekry, an activist whose car was stopped at one of the checkpoints of trash bins, wood and bricks the youth had fashioned during the clash in August. “The fabric here was never that strong, and now it is torn.”
In the revolts that have roiled the Middle East this year, toppling or endangering a half-dozen leaders, Bahrain, an island kingdom once best known for its pearls and banks, has emerged as the cornerstone of a counterrevolution to stanch demands for democracy. While the turmoil elsewhere has proved unpredictable — the ascent of Islamists in Egypt, the threat of civil war in Syria and the prospect of anarchy in Yemen — Bahrain suggests that the alternative, a failed uprising cauterized by searing repression, may prove no less dangerous.
The crackdown here has won a tactical and perhaps ephemeral victory through torture, arrests, job dismissals and the blunt tool of already institutionalized discrimination against the island’s Shiite Muslim majority. In its wake, sectarian tension has exploded, economic woes have deepened, American willingness to look the other way has cast Washington as hypocritical and a society that prides itself on its cosmopolitanism is colliding with its most primordial instincts. Taken together, the repression and warnings of radicalization may underline an emerging dictum of the Arab uprisings: violence begets violence.
The New York Times reports:
Saudi Arabia is flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the Middle East in a wide-ranging bid to contain the tide of change, shield fellow monarchs from popular discontent and avert the overthrow of any more leaders struggling to calm turbulent republics.
From Egypt, where the Saudis dispensed $4 billion in aid last week to shore up the ruling military council, to Yemen, where it is trying to ease out the president, to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, which it has invited to join a union of Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia is scrambling to forestall more radical change and block Iran’s influence.
The kingdom is aggressively emphasizing the relative stability of monarchies, part of an effort to avert any dramatic shift from the authoritarian model, which would generate uncomfortable questions about the glacial pace of political and social change at home.
Saudi Arabia’s proposal to include Jordan and Morocco in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council — which authorized the Saudis to send in troops to quell a largely Shiite Muslim rebellion in the Sunni Muslim monarchy of Bahrain — is intended to create a kind of “Club of Kings.” The idea is to signal Shiite Iran that the Sunni Arab monarchs will defend their interests, analysts said.
“We’re sending a message that monarchies are not where this is happening,” Prince Waleed bin Talal al-Saud, a businessman and high-profile member of the habitually reticent royal family, told The New York Times’s editorial board, referring to the unrest. “We are not trying to get our way by force, but to safeguard our interests.”
The range of the Saudi intervention is extraordinary as the unrest pushes Riyadh’s hand to forge what some commentators, in Egypt and elsewhere, brand a “counterrevolution.” Some Saudi and foreign analysts find the term too sweeping for the steps the Saudis have actually taken, though it appears unparalleled in the region and beyond as the kingdom reaches out to ally with non-Arab Muslim states as well.
Marc Lynch writes:
While the American and international debate over Libya continues, the situation in Bahrain has just taken a sharp turn for the worse. A brutal crackdown on the protestors followed the controversial entry of security forces from Saudi Arabia and three other GCC states. Media access has been curtailed, with journalists finding it difficult to gain entry to the Kingdom (I was supposed to be in Bahrain right now myself, but elected not to try after several journalists let me know that they were being denied entry and several Embassies in Doha warned me off). The road to political compromise and meaningful reform now appears to be blocked, which places the long-term viability of the Bahraini regime in serious question.
The response of the Bahraini regime has implications far beyond the borders of the tiny island Kingdom — not only because along with Libya it has turned the hopeful Arab uprisings into something uglier, but because it is unleashing a regionwide resurgence of sectarian Sunni-Shi’a animosity. Regional actors have enthusiastically bought in to the sectarian framing, with Saudi Arabia fanning the flames of sectarian hostility in defense of the Bahraini regime and leading Shia figures rising to the defense of the protestors. The tenor of Sunni-Shi’a relations across the region is suddenly worse than at any time since the frightening days following the spread of the viral video of Sadrists celebrating the execution of Saddam Hussein.
The sectarian framing in Bahrain is a deliberate regime strategy, not an obvious “reality.” The Bahraini protest movement, which emerged out of years of online and offline activism and campaigns, explicitly rejected sectarianism and sought to emphasize instead calls for democratic reform and national unity. While a majority of the protestors were Shi’a, like the population of the Kingdom itself, they insisted firmly that they represented the discontent of both Sunnis and Shi’ites, and framed the events as part of the Arab uprisings seen from Tunisia to Libya. Their slogans were about democracy and human rights, not Shi’a particularism, and there is virtually no evidence to support the oft-repeated claim that their efforts were inspired or led by Iran.
Mohammed Ayoob writes:
The real reason for the establishment of the GCC in 1981 was not defense against external enemies threatening the security of GCC states but cooperation against domestic challenges to authoritarian regimes. Its main task was and continues to be coordination of internal security measures, including sharing of intelligence, aimed at controlling and suppressing the populations of member states in order to provide security to the autocratic monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The establishment of the GCC was in large measure a reaction on the part of the Gulf monarchies to the Iranian revolution of 1979 in which people’s power toppled the strongest autocracy in the neighborhood. The Arab autocracies of the Gulf did not want to share the Shah’s fate.
That ensuring the security of autocratic regimes was the principal reason for the existence of GCC has become crystal clear with the military intervention by Saudi-led forces in Bahrain to put down the democracy movement and prevent the freedom contagion from spreading to other parts of the Gulf. It is true that the Saudis are apprehensive of the Shia majority coming to power in Bahrain because of the impact it could have on its own restive Shia minority in the oil-rich east of the country. Riyadh is also worried about the impact of a change in regime in Bahrain on the balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region. (One can, however, argue that Saudi military intervention in Bahrain’s affairs will in fact redound to Iran’s benefit in the long run by further de-legitimizing the al-Khalifa rule in Bahrain).
But these are secondary explanations. The primary concern of the Arab autocracies in the Gulf is the suppression of democratic movements regardless of the sectarian character of the populations engaging in democratic struggles. They are worried that if any of the autocracies fall or even reach a substantial compromise with democratic movements it will have a domino effect in the entire Gulf region consigning all of them to the dustbin of history. The GCC was established as an instrument to protect and prolong autocratic rule on the Arabian littoral of the Gulf. Its military operation in Bahrain has clearly shown this true colors.
Tahiyya Lulu writes:
The international community is taking weeks to decide whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Meanwhile, in the eerie quiet of a Bahraini afternoon a deployment of 1,000 soldiers from the Saudi Arabia who are part of the Pensinsula Shield Force entered the country.
Bahrain TV proudly aired clips showing cheering Saudi soldiers in their tanks and armoured personnel carriers as they rolled across the 16-mile causeway between the two countries. Tellingly, a man at the parapet of a tank sits behind his machine gun waving a peace sign at the camera. This is a snapshot of the regime’s current strategy, smile sweetly and say peace for the cameras – and bring in the big guns.
While pro-government commentators allege Iranian support of the current uprising, US defence secretary Robert Gates, who visited Bahrain on March 12, said there is no evidence of interference from Tehran. Unsurprisingly though, the White House issued a statement on Monday saying it does not consider the entry of Saudi troops on to Bahraini land an invasion.
Since the beginning of this uprising – which calls for constitutional reform, an investigation into theft of public land worth billions of dollars, and an end to systematic discrimination, among other things – the regime has implemented a soft-talk big-stick strategy. Its security personnel killed two protesters, and the king appeared on national television to speak of his regret, promising an independent investigation to hold those responsible accountable. Two days later, government security personnel stormed the encampment of protesters at the now-famous Pearl roundabout, killing four more. Later the same day, the crown prince appeared on TV urging calm, while the Bahraini army opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing another two.
The government then said it was open to dialogue with protesters (who are understandably sceptical). Distrust of the government emerges from a history of state oppression and reneged promises much longer than this long month of protest in Bahrain.
Our mothers and fathers, teachers, lawyers, activists and unionists were among the people of Bahrain who expressed their social and political grievances and desires for change in 1954, 1965, 1972, 1994, and 2002. The response of the government has always been the same: unleashing violence against calls for meaningful change, exaggerating the superficial self-imposed changes which include little concession towards sharing of power, and turning to its powerful friends for backing.
Associated Press reports:
Frenzied clashes swept Bahrain Tuesday, a day after a Saudi-led military force entered the country to defend its Sunni monarchy from a Shiite-led protest movement. Hundreds of demonstrators were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs, a doctor said.
As the government’s crackdown intensified, the Bahraini king declared a three-month state of emergency Tuesday that gave his military chief wide authority to battle protesters demanding political reforms and equal rights for Shiites. One demonstrator was shot in the head and killed, and a Saudi official said one of his country’s soldiers was shot dead by a protester.
The force of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops from several Gulf nations saw its first day of action to help prop up the U.S.-backed regime in Bahrain. Its intervention was the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world.
Not surprisingly, the claim by the Saudi official cited in the AP report turned out to be false.
A member of Bahrain’s security forces was killed on Tuesday in clashes with thousands of protesters, state television and the information ministry said, denying earlier reports that a Saudi policeman had also died.
“A member of the security forces passed away in Maameer this evening when he was deliberately run over by one of the rioters,” Bahrain’s Ministry of Information said.
And maybe the story will change yet again and we’ll learn that the vehicle involved was one of the security services’ own.
Yesterday, Amnesty accused the government of using excessive force:
Amnesty International has called on the Bahrain authorities to hold security forces accountable over the use of excessive force after police fired rubber bullets at close range at demonstrators in the capital Manama.
Hundreds of protesters are reported to have been injured over the weekend. On Friday, anti-government protesters sought to march to the royal palace in Riffa but were blocked by security forces and armed government supporters.
On Sunday, police used batons and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who sought to block Manama’s financial district and demonstrated at Bahrain University.
The disturbances were the first major violence since Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered the military off the streets nearly three weeks ago.
“This further resort to excessive force by Bahrain’s security forces is alarming and unacceptable,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The government must now rein in its forces. Those responsible for attacking peaceful protestors and using excessive force must be held to account.”
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Bahraini security forces and plainclothes officers are obstructing news coverage of ongoing political unrest by attacking journalists.