Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saudi troops enter Bahrain to put down revolution

The Bahraini opposition has denounced as a foreign occupation the arrival of over a thousand of Saudi soldiers to help protect government facilities. The troops arrived amid escalating protests against the regime of the Al Khalifa royal family.

Written by Joseph Daher
Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Saudi troops enter Bahrain
Bahrain television on Monday showed images of troops in armored cars entering the country via the 26km causeway that connects the kingdom to Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates has also sent about 500 police to Bahrain, according to Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister.

The troops arrived less than 24 hours after Bahraini police clashed with demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month. On Sunday, following Friday's statement that called for a campaign of civil disobedience, the protesters set up roadblocks across the highway in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH).

After some tussles with the police, tear gas was fired, the crowds dispersed, and tents outside the BFH dismantled by the police, who reportedly then followed protesters to Pearl roundabout and launched stun grenades and more tear gas, and used live ammunition from the flyover.

Clashes between riot police and protesters ensued, with clear evidence of excessive force used by police, including the point blank range shooting of tear gas at an unarmed protester. Crowds surge to the Pearl roundabout, outnumbering police, who were forced to withdraw.

Meanwhile at the same time, in the University of Bahrain - Bahrain's public university, the largest in the country, a demonstration by protestors was attacked by government thugs using sticks and swords. Many of the protesters had to find refuge in the university mosque and classrooms for protection, while others formed a human chain around female students.

The opposition to the regime has stressed the threat that the people of Bahrain are confronting is of a war against Bahraini citizens - but without any official declaration of war.

The opposition added that they consider the entry of any soldier or military equipment into the Kingdom of Bahrain's air, sea or land territories as a blatant occupation, a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain, and a violation of international agreements and conventions.

The capital Manama was virtually paralyzed on Monday 14th of March by a general strike called by the unions to protest against the violent repression of demonstrators in recent days.

On Sunday, protesters were dispersed by police outside the financial district of Bahrain. The Kingdom is a regionally strategic archipelago which hosts the Fifth Fleet U.S. Robert Gates, the US Secretary of State for Defense, visited Bahrain only a day before the crackdown began.

In its statement, the opposition urged the international community to assume its responsibilities promptly and to protect the people of Bahrain against the threat of a military intervention. The opposition also demanded the need to take adequate measures to protect civilians and to convene the UN Security Council.

Saudi soldiers arrived in Bahrain as part of the joint force of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), called "Peninsula Shield", established in 1984. The GCC, where Saudi Arabia plays a leading role, gathers all Gulf Arab monarchies which includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

The Saudi official declared that any force deployed in a GCC member country "passes under the authority of the host country", suggesting that it is in Bahrain to decide whether or not to participate in policing. Iran, meanwhile, has warned against foreign interferences.

The GCC has expressed its solidarity with the Bahraini authorities during the popular protests against the Al Khalifa regime. The GCC decided a few days ago on March 10 to create a development fund of 20 billion dollars to help Bahrain and Oman, another country beset by protests. Ten billion dollars will be given to each country to upgrade their housing and infrastructure over 10 years.

The GCC has also promised to deal "firmly" with any threat to the safety of one of its members. Following the Saudi troops entry, hundreds of protesters gathered behind makeshift checkpoints around the Pearl Roundabout, the scene of much of the protest in Bahrain.

Bahrain and especially the capital Manama has been paralyzed by protests for weeks, with thousands of people, frustrated by unemployment and economic inequality, camped in the main roundabout since mid-February.

The protesters have also staged a number of marches on symbolic targets – the prime minister's office, the foreign ministry, and the state television building, among others.

The regime has continued its sectarian policy of hiring hundreds of former soldiers from Pakistan to serve in its National Guard - protesters have demanded an end to the government’s controversial practice of recruiting foreigners in to the security forces. A call for applicants titled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard” was recently placed on the website of a prominent Pakistani human resource firm that has close ties to the Pakistani military. The announcement said it was hiring several categories of ex-military personnel, including anti-riot instructors, Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, retired infantry majors, and military police. The statement said that a delegation from the Bahrain National Guard would be visiting Pakistan for the purpose of selecting the Pakistani personnel from March 7 to March 14.

A similar advertisement was published in the Daily Jang, Pakistan’s most widely read newspaper, on the first of March, and before that on the 25th of February. Around 800 Pakistanis have already been hired in the past few weeks. Bahrain’s police, military and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.

The intervention of Saudi forces must be understood as a response to the threat of popular protests inside its own borders. The eastern province city of Qatif in Saudi Arabia has already witnessed some protests, where three protesters were shot and wounded by police dispersing a demonstration late on Thursday 10th of March. The shooting happened when several hundred protesters, all from the Shia sect and including women, took to the streets of the city to demand the release of nine Shia prisoners. Another small demonstration calling for reforms and the release of Shia prisoners also took place the day after on Friday.

More than 200 protesters also rallied in the city of Hofuf, which is close to the eastern Ghawar oil field and major refinery installations. The city has seen scattered protests in the last two weeks by minority Shias, who complain of discrimination in the face of the country's dominant Sunni majority. The city of Al-Hasa, which witnessed some unrest, also happens to be where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves lie. The opposition in Saudi Arabia is nevertheless a cross sectarian one including Sunni and Shia calling for democratic and social reforms.

A Call from Saudi Intellectuals to the Political Leadership made on the February 28, 2011, titled the Declaration of National Reform, expressed their desire for a constitutional monarchy and equal citizenship. They write in their statement that the people's consent is the basis for the legitimacy of authority, and the only guarantee for unity, stability, and the efficiency of public administration, as well as the protection of the country from foreign intervention.

They also call for the people to be a source of authority, and a full partner in deciding public policies through their elected representatives in the Shura (Consultative) Council, the purpose of the state is to serve society, secure its interests, improve its standard of living. They insist on the principle of the independence of judicial authority, legislation that forbids discrimination among citizens under any circumstances, the empowering of women to attain their rights to education, owning property, employment, and participation in public affairs without any discrimination and finally they call for more social justice and a just redistribution of the oil revenues among the population.

The Saudi regime sees the success of the protesters as a solely sectarian issue because a democratic Bahrain, composed of 70% of Shias would tend to be closer to Shia Iran and would encourage Saudi Shia citizens to launch more protests in the Kingdom.

The situation and the protesters in Bahrain are far from sectarian discourse. Despite the fact that the Shi‘a in Bahrain have suffered the most from the regime’s intransigence, frustrations cut across sectarian lines. The slogans have continually been inclusive calling for unity between Shia and Sunni, as well as for social justice.

The opposition in Bahrain grew from frustration over promises made by the current king Hamad Al Khalifa. He promised sweeping liberal reforms that would, in essence, lead the country towards a constitutional monarchy.

Instead, the regime installed a sham bicameral parliamentary system, decreed a constitution that consolidated power in the hands of the elites and institutionalized discrimination against the island’s majority Shi‘i population. The king appoints a consultative council that can block the elected lower house’s legislation. Electoral districts are hopelessly gerrymandered to minimize Shi‘i representation. The Bahrain opposition has since then organized in political societies, as actual parties are illegal, to pressure the regime to change its policy.

The opposition in Bahrain has since then been divided in its behavior towards the regime. Part of the opposition ran for Parliament and vowed to change the system from within. By all accounts, the opposition deputies agitated repeatedly for structural changes, but their incorporation into the system rendered them wholly ineffective. This is the position of the two societies, al-Wifaq and the left-leaning Wa‘ad, which are not calling for an overthrow of the regime but for constitutional reforms.

Secondly there's the Haqq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, led by charismatic figures like Hasan Mushayma‘, ‘Isa al-Jawdar and ‘Abd al-Jalil Singace, and a network of young, energetic and devoted human rights activists at the heart of it the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, headed by ‘Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab. They both rejected participation in elections and called for increased grassroots organizing, up to and including civil disobedience, and reached out to Western governments. They were able to recruit a considerable amount of supporters from al-Wifaq and Wa‘ad, and they eventually boasted a significant following in both the Shi‘i and Sunni communities.

Haqq and the human rights activists also assumed a decidedly more defiant stance against the regime and its excesses than the established opposition. They organized a few peaceful demonstrations in 2005-2006, before both groups suffered repression. Nevertheless since the beginning of the movement of protest on the 14th of February, called by youth movements and grassroots organizations, Wifaq and Wa’ad - initially reluctant to support the call for demonstrations, changed course, as the regime’s violence made them feel compelled to join forces with the protesters.

Now the protesters are speaking once more in an united and strong voice to oppose Saudi military intervention in Bahrain. The entry of the Saudi troops has actually reinforced and strengthened the movement of protest against the Bahraini regime.

The USA had until a few days ago completely ignored the regime's violent repression of opposition members and protesters. On December 3, 2010 Hillary Clinton stated that she was impressed by the Bahrain government's commitment to following a democratic path.

The USA administration is now trapped in its own rhetoric, urging the Al Khalifa to pursue “meaningful reform” and rebuking the regime for its violence, but stopping well short of the condemnatory language it employed to denounce similar repression in nearby Iran or Libya.

The US diffidence is likely informed by the judgment of a top intelligence official, that the royal family can and will restore order in Bahrain. The USA has called for restraint, but has refrained from saying whether it supports the move to deploy troops.

In conclusion, we can observe again the selectivity of the International Community, led by the USA and the UK, so prompt to call for foreign intervention and a no fly zone in the case of Libya, but not in Bahrain which is now witnessing a direct intervention from a neighbour dictatorship to repress protesters and put an end to demonstrations. Are the Bahrain revolutionaries not worth as much as the Libyan revolutionaries?

Would the problem be that the Bahrain regime is a key ally of western imperialist governments? Could it be that the US Fifth Fleet anchored in Bahrain is too important for Western imperialist interests to dare raise the issue of Bahraini revolutionaries?

Bahrian is located in the region where two thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves lie, and ensuring that the precious liquid flows to global consumers with minimal interruption is a primary US goal.

We should remind ourselves that it is these 5th Fleet aircraft carriers that launched the jets that patrolled the no-fly zone in southern Iraq in the 1990s and the bombers that struck Baghdad in advance of the 2003 invasion.

The voice of the International Community is suddenly silenced in view of such important political and economic interests. It is these interests that western imperialist countries want to defend with military intervention in Libya - and why they should be opposed.

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